Editorial comment: Trade-off needed for Abacus

The public watch on at the planning meeting into whether Abacus Belsize Primary School could move in

The public watch on at the planning meeting into whether Abacus Belsize Primary School could move into the former Hampstead Police Station. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK - Credit: Archant

It’s an equation that even the best and brightest minds would struggle to come up with an answer for.

Take a school, add it into a police station, while dividing the feeling of Hampstead residents and Abacus parents. Even with my maths GCSE, I'm struggling to find a solution.

From talking to all sides in the last week, it's clear that there isn't a solution where everyone will walk away completely happy.

The Department for Education (DfE) along with the school and its trust has come too far over the last six years not to appeal. But by the time that is decided, lodged and heard we'll be another year down the line. Add in an inevitable legal challenge from residents and it feels a lot like the original pupils at Abacus won't be far off having their own children by the time its resolved.

Something has got to give. There is a feeling from neighbours in Downshire Hill that the school has not been open enough and compromised as much as is necessary. Meanwhile parents and the school think that they are being victimised and that an anti-free schools sentiment is at play.

What we did see at last week's meeting was that assiduous questioning from the committee showed that concerns about air pollution, traffic, noise and heritage are more than valid.

But will any development ever meet this criteria? Most proposals, whether a museum, mixed development with housing or anything else will generate more traffic than a closed police station, or a rather sleepy one as it spent its later years. The DfE spent a hefty sum acquiring it in the first place, who is going to buy it for similar money and spend more to do it up?

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Both sides are in a stalemate and I suspect are looking to the judicial system to ultimately prove their arguments. Yet whatever happens will leave one side disappointed.

Before then, everyone needs to get back around the table for one last go, and be prepared for both sides to compromise.