REJECTED: Planners refuse to allow Abacus Primary School move into old Hampstead police station
Councillors say no to application that divided community
14 November, 2019 — By Helen Chapman
Councillors last night went against the advice of their own planning officials and refused permission for a primary school to move into the old Hampstead police station.
After a marathon three-hour session in the Town Hall chamber, members of the planning committee rejected the plans brought forward by the Abacus free school. Their reasons for refusal included concerns over the impact on the travel network in the area, the impact on a historic building due to the internal work and the potential impacts on air quality.
The proposed intake had been cut to 210 – the original plan was for 420 places – and a rooftop playground has been scrapped during the negotiations.
But existing primary schools in Belsize Park and Hampstead, however, had warned that the arrival of Abacus will leave them in financial difficulties – unfilled places lead to less funding. Camden Council has warned repeatedly of a school rolls crisis.
Headteacher Vicki Briody said: “Evidence suggests little or no impact of Abacus Belsize remaining at one form entry and moving to the Hampstead site. We are fully committed to remaining a small inclusive school of 210 children and are happy with this being a condition of planning permission.
“We agree there is no need for new primary school places. There won’t be any. We are already a fully established one form entry school. This application is about a full school of Belsize children moving to a permanent home. We are an active part of Camden family of schools. We follow the national curriculum with the same education other state schools provide.”
Abacus headteacher Vicki Briody: ‘There are no good reasons to say no and plenty to say yes’
There were shouts of “shame” from parents in the public gallery as the committee unanimously voted against the plans.
The school, originally set up for families in Belsize Park, has been bussing pupils to a temporary site in King’s Cross while a planning saga has rumbled on for half a decade. The case goes back to when Boris Johnson closed the police base in Rosslyn Hill during his time as London Mayor.
Education chief Councillor Angela Mason said: “I think it is outrageous that 17 million of public money is to be spent on knocking about a listed site on a main road to provide a primary school with one form of entry, at a time when Camden schools have seen a 25% drop in their real terms income since 2011. I would question whether such a decision to use so much public money for one small school is a legally reasonable or proportionate response.”
Camden’s education chief Councillor Angela Mason says the school’s plans are in the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’
Councillors on the committee concerned about residents in the area questioned noise levels at the school but Abacus insists it will be kept to two hours a day during term time.
Opponents living in the area feared more traffic congestion on one of the area’s busiest roads and residential side-streets, although the school insisted it would be a “car free” school with wardens patrolling the streets.
Lib Dem Councillor Luisa Porritt said: “The school already has a walk to school ethos, with 96% of the children currently walking then taking the bus. The shorter distance between where the majority of Abacus’ pupils live in Belsize and the new site of the school will mean fewer bus journeys and make the prospect of getting in a car even less attractive than if the school were to remain located outside of NW3.”
Andrew Neale, Co-Chair of The Hampstead Committee for Responsible Development, said: “It is effectively a car free site. A school use will generate some substantial traffic disruption and consequential pollution in an area recognised for school run chaos. Even the low figures accepted in the report give you scope to refuse on these grounds.
“The scheme should be refused on heritage grounds given the undue harm. Two independent heritage specialists have categorised the harm as substantial and you can see that from how the interiors are gutted and the courtroom complex denuded of its significance.”