Abacus Belsize Primary School: Council rejects renewed plan to move school into former Hampstead Police Station
PUBLISHED: 13:17 15 November 2019 | UPDATED: 13:17 15 November 2019
Abacus Belsize Primary School’s latest bid to move into the former Hampstead Police Station was unanimously rejected by Camden Council’s planning committee last night.
It's the latest setback for the school's ambition to move into the building in Rosslyn Hill after a previous application was blocked in 2016.
The marathon three-hour discussion culminated in the committee's eight members rejecting the proposal to move the 210-pupil school there over concerns about impact on the local area through noise, traffic, air pollution, a lack of outside space, and damage to the Grade-II listed building's heritage through building work inside the station.
The team from Abacus and its trust, CfBT, were visibly frustrated after the vote. The Ham&High has contacted them for comment.
Camden's planning officer overseeing the application, David Fowler, told councillors at the start of the meeting that the proposal should only be judged "on planning merits."
However members of the committee raised concerns about a possible "loss of amenity" as primary schools in the borough face a crisis of under-subscribed school places. Last week Carlton School in Kentish Town sent letters to parents saying it could close over falling school rolls. St Aloysius in Somers Town is going into its final term after the school's closure was announced earlier this year.
The school was bought by the Department for Education for £14.1million to house the free school in 2014.
In a speech to the committee, the council's education head Angela Mason said: "We are all trapped in a difficult if not impossible situation that arises from wrong-headed policies. In particular the decision by Boris Johnson to buy Hampstead Police Station to support the development of free schools in London.
"It is outrageous that £17million of public money is to be spent on knocking about a listed site on a main road at a time where Camden schools have seen a 25 per cent drop in their income since 2011."
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Mr Fowler confirmed to the committee that air quality in Rosslyn Hill was "poor." This was after Andrew Neale, from the Hampstead Community for Responsible Development (HCRD) said that the plans should be thrown out because of it.
Mr Neale said: "This is the wrong building in the wrong location. The London Plan says new schools shouldn't be located on main roads. Levels of [Nitrogen Dioxide] are in excess of European legal limits and the scheme adds to the excess."
Cllr Adam Harrison, who is the borough's cabinet member for the environment added that it would be difficult to set up a Healthy School Street scheme for the school, as Rosslyn Hill is one of the main roads connecting Hampstead to Camden Town. He has hopes that the road closure scheme will be rolled out to "as many schools as possible."
However Abacus headteacher Vicki Briody insisted that the school was car free and was "more than confident" it would get its gold star travel accreditation from Transport for London by getting 90 per cent of pupils travelling to school "actively." But her plea, along saying it was "time that we move to our permanent home within walking distance from our catchment area" fell on deaf ears.
As 10pm approached, questions mounted about the noise impact on nearby neighbours and whether work to the former magistrates' court to create a business centre would have a negative effect on the listed building. The committee voted as one against it.
Speaking after the vote, Belsize councillor Tom Simon, who spoke in favour of the application said: "I find it bizarre that they buy into this fantasy that there's alternatives for the school to move into. I don't know what they don't understand about a ten-year exhaustive search.
"This decision puts into jeopardy the future of one of Camden's best schools and 200 pupils that are educated there. The grounds they refused it on are weak and they're grasping at straws."
Meanwhile Cllr Maria Higson whose Hampstead Town ward the school was looking to move into backed the decision.
She said: "Whilst Abacus is an outstanding school, this planning application would have permanently placed it at the wrong site. The traffic and air quality issues would have been detrimental to both the community and the pupils, and it is for this reason that it contradicted planning policy, including the Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan.
"I want Abacus to have a suitable home within its catchment area where it can continue to be a huge asset to Belsize."