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Abacus planning inquiry: Experts argue over ‘unacceptable’ air quality at school’s proposed site

PUBLISHED: 15:16 23 September 2020 | UPDATED: 15:16 23 September 2020

Vicky Briody speaking to a Camden Council planning commitee meeting about Abacus Primary's planned move to the old Hampstead police station. Picture: Polly Hancock

Vicky Briody speaking to a Camden Council planning commitee meeting about Abacus Primary's planned move to the old Hampstead police station. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Nitrous Dioxide (NO2) levels at the old Hampstead police station are at an “unacceptable level”, according to an expert witness at the inquiry into plans for Abacus Belsize Primary school to move to the Rosslyn Hill site.

The former Hampstead Police Station, in Rosslyn Hill, which Abacus Belsize Primary School want to turn into a school. Picture: Harry TaylorThe former Hampstead Police Station, in Rosslyn Hill, which Abacus Belsize Primary School want to turn into a school. Picture: Harry Taylor

That’s according to Dr Michael Bull on a Tuesday afternoon which saw witnesses disagree as to the impact of air pollution on the school should it relocate.

Dr Bull told inspector Paul Jackson that, according to his predictions, annual levels of Nitrous Dioxide (NO2) would breach the UK limit of 40μg/m3 in part of the site.

READ MORE: Move for Abacus ‘vital’, planning inquiry hears

The inquiry is looking at whether the 210-pupil free school, currently in a temporary Camley St home, can move to the Grade-II listed Rosslyn Hill building vacated by the Met Police in 2013.

An application for planning permission to convert the premises – now owned by the Department for Education (DfE) was turned down by Camden’s planning committee last year.

Concerns around pollution levels were among the reasons for rejection cited by the committee.

Responding to questions from Reuben Taylor QC, representing Anthem, the trust which runs the school, he said: “The levels are above national objectives, it’s a clear indication of an unacceptable level.”

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He added: “We have seen in the evidence that it is above 40. Even most of the site is predicted to have concentrations above the baseline level. Planning policy is that you place schools far away from busy roads such as this.”

However Abacus’ air quality specialist Conal Kearney told Mr Taylor that with the filtration systems that are part of the school’s plans, NO2 levels would be “well below” the limit inside the building.

“The levels are substantially lower. It is likely in my judgement that this would be comparable to the levels at Camley St and better than Rosary School down the road.”

He added: “When you put all these things together it is difficult to say that there will be any material difference or change in the health with the exposure of the child at these sites.”

Earlier that morning inspector Paul Jackson heard from a number of parents from Abacus, assuring him that their children would be made to walk to school, and praising standards at the school.

David Castle, the Heath and Hampstead Society’s planning spokesperson, threw doubt on the pledges from parents saying previous initiatives have often fallen by the wayside after initial success. He also raised the issue of Abacus pupils using Hampstead Heath for classes and PE lessons, saying “it’s not to be a regular exercise area for a specific school”.

Earlier days at the inquiry have seen supportive parents tell the inspector of the school’s value, headteacher Vicky Briody explain how the move would be “vital”, and transport witnesses argue over the impact relocating the school would have on traffic in the centre of Hampstead.

The inquiry has adjourned and will resume for two further days of hearings from Monday October 19.


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