Abacus Belsize School: Council set to pass plans for school to move into former Hampstead Police Station
PUBLISHED: 13:16 05 November 2019 | UPDATED: 15:17 05 November 2019
Camden Council is set to pass a plan for Abacus Belsize Primary School to open inside the old Hampstead Police Station.
The proposal to move the 210-pupil school into the Grade-II listed building in Rosslyn Hill will go before the planning committee on Thursday.
Abacus, which is currently based in Camley Street, hopes to move into the building in 2021, a year before the lease on its current site runs out.
The move has been controversial since the free school's original plan was put forward in 2013. A 420-pupil site was turned down in 2016 because of the potential for "overdevelopment."
Concerns about noise, pollution, traffic and the impact on nearby state schools have been raised. Its catchment area also does not cover the area the school is in. The application's opponents have not ruled out legal action if it is approved.
Andrew Neale, co-chair of Hampstead Community for Responsible Development said: "It's beyond belief. It's a product that is just not appropriate. There is no rationale for this school in this location whatsoever."
Under the plans, the school would build classrooms in the main building for reception to year four. Meanwhile years five and six would be housed in a converted stable block outside.
A new school hall would be built at the back of the building, and the magistrates' court would be turned into co-working business space for 16 people. Hampstead BID has expressed an interest in running it.
The station was designed by John Butler Dixon and opened in 1913. A hundred years later it was closed by London mayor Boris Johnson and sold to the Department for Education for £14.1million.
There has been bemusement over the school's catchment area being more than 250 yards away, meaning children who live yards from its doors cannot attend it. Residents and Keats Practice GP surgery have also said they are worried about an increase in traffic.
Yet the strongest rebuke has come from existing schools in the area.
In an objection New End School's governors have painted a stark picture. They said that if it gets approved, there "will not be enough children or money to go around."
The school already has 79 unfilled places, which means £398,729 less funding per year. In Camden there is projected to be a 40 per cent increase in empty places between now and 2027.
Jonathan Bevan, a former governor at Christchurch School is also worried about the effect on nearby schools.
He said: "The demographics are very different now compared to then. It's true that you couldn't get in to a Belsize school when the proposals were made in 2015.
"What has happened is the birth rate has dropped in Camden and across London. Schools are closing or capping their intake, and I'm worried that if this goes ahead some schools won't have the money to support special needs pupils."
Noise concerns also persist. The rooftop playground has been axed in favour of a space behind the school, but plans for an 4m acoustic wall were dropped, with no other sound mitigation measures being offered.
Mr Neale said: "If a free school was proposed at the moment, it wouldn't meet the Department for Education's current policies because there isn't sufficient demand.
"The traffic issues don't go away by calling it a car free school. They are there for everyone to see already through every rush hour.
"[Camden Council] has used Kentish Town Police Station as an example in its transport assessment for how busy the traffic would be, but there hasn't been a police station in Hampstead for five years and it was fairly low use in the previous 15."
Abacus School Belsize's headteacher Vicki Briody said: "The plan we have developed provides not only a great home for the school and useful facility for the local community, but fundamentally it enables all our children to be able to walk to school and enjoy our outstanding education offering close to their homes.
"The school has, for many years, been part of the Camden education landscape and we are pleased that we can now be located closer to the families we serve. Our application overcomes all objections and is fully supported by Camden's officers. We hope the councillors will be able to support it."
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