'Speculative': Opera downplays school's move for recording studio

The rear of Lilian Baylis House in early 2021. 

Lilian Baylis House, the former home of Decca Studios - Credit: Nick Awde

A school’s plans to move into a Grade II-listed opera venue in West Hampstead have been played down as “entirely speculative” by the building’s owner.

North Bridge House (NBH), a private school with sites in Hampstead, Regent’s Park and Canonbury, has put proposals via its operator Cognita to Camden Council to convert the old Decca Studios at Lilian Baylis House into a site for 300 pupils aged 13-18. 

The “certificate for lawfulness” application means that, if approved by the local authority, the development in Broadhurst Gardens would not require planning permission.

It was reported earlier this year that the English National Opera (ENO), the owner of the site, had put the building up for sale.

However the ENO told this newspaper it could yet keep and upgrade the venue, claiming the site isn’t “formally on the market” for sale – rendering the planning application “entirely speculative”. 

Lilian Baylis House, in the South Hampstead conservation area, was awarded listed status in August after an application from a third party.

NBH says its efforts to expand into the old Decca Studios follows rising demand for places, with families facing “significant waiting lists”.

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The school opened a nursery and pre-prep site in Fordwych Road last September.  

A spokesperson for NBH said: “In exploring the potential for expanding, we remain committed to providing a close-knit learning environment – smaller groups with multiple campuses of students benefitting from a lower student-teacher ratio.” 

The ENO challenged the significance of the school’s planning application. A spokesperson said: “We regularly consider all our options, which could involve selling Lilian Baylis House or staying and improving its facilities.  

“This consideration has not been affected by the listing of the building. The property has not been formally launched onto the market, so this planning application is entirely speculative.”

An archive picture of Decca Studios in West Hampstead's Broadhurst Gardens. 

An archive picture of Decca Studios in West Hampstead's Broadhurst Gardens. - Credit: SI

Decca Studios was a recording facility from 1937-1980, and before that the site was used as West Hampstead Town Hall.  

It played host to a series of stars including David Bowie and Marc Bolan, who both recorded their first singles at the historic venue. 

Nick Jackson, co-chair of the Fortune Green and West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum, said a performance or cultural space, such as a cinema or gallery, should be retained as part of any development.