Abacus planning inquiry rejects school move into former Hampstead police station
- Credit: Archant
A planning inquiry has rejected an appeal to move Abacus Belsize Primary School into the former Hampstead police station.
Planning inspector Paul Jackson ruled in favour of Camden Council's original decision to reject the school's relocation from King's Cross after a hearing which took place in September and October.
The protracted case divided the area, with the school arguing for benefits to its pupils and to its "visibility locally".
The council argued against the move for issues over traffic, noise and pollution, and the impact on the heritage of the Grade-II listed building.
In his conclusion, Mr Jackson ruled against the school for "the need to adapt a building not designed for school use with distinct architectural and heritage value, necessitating very significant intrusive alteration with limited heritage benefits, amounting to a high level of ‘less than substantial’ harm."
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He also cited the "siting of the school close to a busy road, inevitably exposing children for the foreseeable future to higher relative levels of pollution" and the "substantial level of annoyance and reduction in the quality of life for neighbouring occupiers in Downshire Hill due to noise”.
Mr Jackson concluded: “Cumulatively, these matters considerably outweigh the benefits of utilising this building. The scheme should not proceed."
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Despite dismissing the appeal, the planning inspector said that “great weight" should be given to the prospect of a permanent local site for Abacus, which is rated ‘outstanding’ by Osted.
He said the benefits of a local school were “significant” but outweighed in this case when considering impacts upon the site’s heritage, pollution, noise and quality of life for residents.
Mr Jackson said Hampstead Community for Responsible Development's argument of already sufficient school places in the area was of “limited relevance” due to the lack of local state schools and non-faith schools.
The key issues covered during the inquiry were whether the Abacus move would be "sustainable" regarding local transport, traffic and pollution – and what impact it would have on noise levels in the area.
The suitability of the former police base as a school, vacant since 2013, was also discussed.
Due to Covid-19 the inquiry was held virtually, with closing submissions made on October 29 and two site visits carried out on September 11 and October 21.
The appeal was made by the Department for Education (DfE) on behalf of Anthem Schools Trust against the decision of Camden Council.
Camden Conservatives' leader Cllr Oliver Cooper (Hampstead Town) said there had been a longstanding "fixation" on the site and that the ruling "hinged on the harm that locating the school on a busy road would do to pupils".
Cllr Cooper (Hampstead Town) said: "We owe it to Abacus children to find a site in Belsize Park that protects their education and their health: not trade one off against the other by insisting that the school open on a busy road."
Belsize councillor Luisa Porritt (Lib Dem) said: "This is deeply disappointing news for parents, staff and the wider community involved with Abacus School. Most of all, Belsize children deserve to have this outstanding-rated school in their local area."
Cllr Porritt added it was a "great shame and waste of public money" to leave the site vacant.
Camden Council planning chief Cllr Danny Beales (Labour, Cantelowes) said: “We welcome that the Planning Inspectorate has upheld our decision and agreed that this Grade II listed building is not appropriate for use as a school.
“The Inspectorate supported our view that the benefits of the building being used as a school would not outweigh the harm caused to pupils by the school being close to a busy road with poorer air quality, the negative impact that it would have on neighbouring residents and the damaging works that would be required to the listed building to convert it for use as a school.
“We will continue to work together with Abacus Belsize Primary School to find a site that meets their needs and offers clear benefits to pupils and residents.”
A DfE spokesperson said: "We are currently working with Camden Council and Anthem Academy Trust to consider next steps for Abacus Belsize free school, and are focused on ensuring the best possible outcome for the education of the school’s pupils.”
A spokesperson for Anthem Schools Trust said: "We are disappointed that the independent planning inspector has upheld Camden council’s decision to refuse planning permission to convert the former Hampstead Police Station on Rosslyn Hill into a permanent home for Abacus Belsize Primary School. This is a devastating blow for the school and the whole Anthem community. However, the fight for a permanent home for Abacus is not over and we will be taking some time to consider our next steps.
"We are enormously proud of Vicki and her team for the courage and determination they have displayed throughout this difficult journey, and hugely grateful for the unwavering support of parents and members of the local community. Together, we will continue to work towards securing the future that this outstanding community school deserves."