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BREAKING NEWS: Free school to take over axed Hampstead Police Station

13:48 06 June 2014

Hampstead Police Station (Stock)

Hampstead Police Station (Stock)

Nigel Sutton

Hampstead’s axed police station is to become a free school after being sold to the Department for Education (DfE).

Vicky Briody, headteacher of Abacus Belsize Primary School, with pupils on the school's first day in September 2013. Picture: Nigel SuttonVicky Briody, headteacher of Abacus Belsize Primary School, with pupils on the school's first day in September 2013. Picture: Nigel Sutton

The former station in Rosslyn Hill will be taken over by Abacus Belsize Primary School, which opened in September and is currently based in the nearby Old Hampstead Town Hall in Haverstock Hill.

The Education Funding Agency, part of the DfE, has been in discussion with the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) over buying the building for Abacus for some time. The school announced this afternoon that the talks have proved successful.

The primary school, which specialises in Mandarin and “outdoor learning”, is expected to move in over the course of the 2016/2017 academic year, after the building is converted for educational use.

The news will delight staff, parents and the campaigners who fought for five years for a new primary in NW3, to alleviate a chronic shortage of state school places in the area.

Squatters Martin (31), Matthew (21), Aurimas (24) and Ecko (28) lived in the former Hampstead Police Station for two weeks in April and May. Picture: Polly HancockSquatters Martin (31), Matthew (21), Aurimas (24) and Ecko (28) lived in the former Hampstead Police Station for two weeks in April and May. Picture: Polly Hancock

It has lifted a cloud of uncertainty over the school, which was urgently seeking a permanent home. It’s arrangement with the old town hall was only temporary and had little more than a year left to run.

Jill Barnes, chair of governors, said: “We are so delighted with this outcome. The permanent site has been everyone’s first question since the school was approved back in 2012.

“We were speechless and elated when EFA told us the police station was to be the school’s permanent site. It’s fantastic and humbling to know the long term future of Abacus is now secure in such a beautiful public building.”

Headteacher Victoria Briody said: “Staff are extremely happy with the news of the permanent site that the EFA has acquired for the school. It ensures that we can continue to build on the successes of our foundation year with a clear aim for our future.

The school's first teacher Lucas Motion, son of former Poet Laureate Andrew, and headteacher Vicky Briody outside its current home, the old town hall. Picture: Nigel SuttonThe school's first teacher Lucas Motion, son of former Poet Laureate Andrew, and headteacher Vicky Briody outside its current home, the old town hall. Picture: Nigel Sutton

“The location enables us to hold close our outdoor learning curriculum we have begun developing and it is wonderful to be able to use the Hampstead Heath in such close proximity to the school grounds.”

Although it was widely expected to be sold for housing and converted into luxury flats, staff and governors at Abacus made no secret of the fact that they coveted the location.

However, the sale will come as a huge blow to campaigners who have continued to fight for officers to be returned to the Grade II-listed site, which served the community for 100 years before shutting on June 24 last year.

The Mayor of London forced through the closure of Hampstead Police Station 12 months ago as part of a major policing cutbacks programme, in the face of huge community opposition.

On Monday, an open letter was sent out by Jessica Learmond-Criqui, chairman of the Frognal and Fitzjohns Safer Neighbourhoods Panel, calling for the station to be reopened.

Ms Learmond-Criqui, who also leads the Hampstead Shops Campaign, outlined a series of alarming incidents in recent weeks and months, including a gunpoint robbery at Tesco in Heath Street, Hampstead, and a terrifying spate of armed moped gang robberies that have taken place across the area.

She believes the station was acting as a significant deterrent to criminals and that its closure has made Hampstead a target.

She wrote: “Crime is increasing in Hampstead. It is my view that the closure of the station is a significant factor in this...

“We need to find a way to make MOPAC [the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime] re-open Hampstead police station – the Met will use that site if MOPAC saved it. Perhaps not all of it, but I have already had indications that this may be possible.”

The DfE has not disclosed how much it has paid for the site. It is understood that Abacus will be given a long-term lease to the main building, while the future of the annexe cottage is yet to be confirmed.

The fate of the axed police station had been a frequent source of embarrassment for Scotland Yard, while it lay unsold for nearly 12 months.

The Ham&High revealed in May that police were spending more on looking after the building since its closure than before it was shut.

The site’s high running costs were one of the main justifications for scrapping the base, but the Met was forking out £2,500 a week on security for the vacant site, while about £1,750 went on maintenance before its closure.

The high security fees were being paid following another embarrassing episode which saw the building taken over by a group of squatters in April.

Police had to break in to get the squatters out.

The Met was also criticised in January when a loud security alarm was left blaring for 48 hours, causing sleepless nights for several residents.

Officers were reportedly unable to get into the building amid confusion over who had the keys and knew the code to disable the system.

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