Abacus Belsize Primary School: Move into old Hampstead Police station could see rush hour journeys decrease, planning inquiry hears

The former Hampstead Police Station, in Rosslyn Hill, which Abacus Belsize Primary School want to tu

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

Arguments over transport pressures and air quality were heard at the planning inquiry into Abacus Belsize Primary School’s scheme to move into the old Hampstead Police Station in Rosslyn Hill.

Nicholas Ferguson, a transport expert and consultant who has been working for Abacus’ parent trust Anthem on their application, argued that the school’s move to the grade-II listed site would actually reduce vehicle journey in the area – as the shuttle-buses used to transport pupils from pick-up points in Belsize ward to the school’s temporary Camley Street site would not be necessary.

Mr Ferguson told planning inspector Paul Jackson: “Based on a hands-up survey of pupils, only 4 per cent of children were dropped off by car. On this basis, a fully-subscribed school would generate just 32 trips a day.”

Referring to the small percentage of children who are taken either to Camley Street or a shuttle-bus point by car, he added: “And these are not new trips to the network. They’re existing trips being made by existing parents.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus should rule out Abacus Primary’s Hampstead Police station move, planning inquiry hearsMorag Ellis QC, acting for Camden Council quizzed Mr Ferguson, and put it to him that there was “uncertainty” as to whether parental travel choices “build around” the shuttle bus system would be replicated were the school to based at the Rosslyn Hill site, and as to whether there was any solid data explaining how children were taken home at the end of the day.

Ms Ellis also raised concerns that car use from those using the office space slated as part of the development hadn’t been taken into account.

Earlier in the inquiry, lawyers and experts on behalf of both Camden Council and the Hampstead Community for Responsible Development group (HCRD) argued Covid-19 would likely make traffic around Rosslyn Hill worse.

Esther Drabkin-Reiter, lawyer for the HCRD, said on Tuesday: “The impact of changes in behaviour resulting from the coronavirus pandemic is likely to worsen the effects of the proposed development on the transport network.”

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Mr Ferguson disputed this, and said though he felt it early to judge how the pandemic would affect transport use, he felt it might well lead to a reduction in vehicles on the roads.

He said: “It would be wrong to draw any foregone conclusion on the transport impact of changes in behaviour in response to Covid-19. One might expect car ownership to be lower.” He argued greater levels of working from home would potentially see traffic decrease – and said that traffic levels in Haverstock Hill and Hampstead more generally were on a downward trend before this.

Both Camden and the HCRD have produced transport experts who have given alternative opinions.

Later in the day, Dr Andrew Bull, an expert on air pollution appearing as a witness on behalf of the council, also told the inquiry plans to site “sensitve” buildings such as schools within 500m of main roads was contrary to local and London-wide planning policy.

The inquiry has been extended after it took longer than expected to deal with evidence – and will now finish with two days of hearings on October 19 and 20.

The inquiry continues, with Abacus’s headteacher Vicky Briody set to give evidence on Friday.