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Fresh bid to open new Hampstead school comes with ‘car free’ promise

Saga of empty police station continues with the new planning application

27 May, 2019 — By Tom Foot

A SCHOOL has offered to be “car-free” in a fresh bid to move into the former Hampstead police station.

Staff known as “arrival wardens” would patrol the school-run if Camden Council finally allows the building in Rosslyn Hill – which has stood empty for half a decade – to be converted.

With a planning saga running since 2014, the Abacus free school project has been operating in temporary premises and busing children to King’s Cross while waiting to move in. A key objection has been how the plan would compound problems with Hampstead’s notorious school-run congestion.

But the Department for Education (DfE), on behalf of the CfBT Schools Trust, has now submitted a no-cars pledge. Its latest planning application says it will counter concerns by using the “arrival wardens in high-visibility clothing” outside the building who will “give verbal warnings to any parents who are seen to be using car transport”.

It adds that children would not be excluded if “parents do not comply with a ‘no-car’ policy” but their pupils would miss out on awards and incentives given to other pupils. Although the policy is being used to counter residents’ objections to Abacus moving into the Grade II-listed police station, objections were filed at the Town Hall within days of the plans for the former police base being submitted.

Jeanette MacDowall, who lives nearby, said: “There are so many schools in Hampstead, both private and state, which causes absolute gridlock with traffic. The building should be used for the community in other ways – ideally reinstated as a police station or a community centre, or housing for emergency services.”

Ian Smith, another objector, said: “We don’t need another school in Hampstead, they already can’t give away the state school places here. This needs to be in an area a school is needed.” The Abacus project was launched by parents at a time when there was a shortage of primary school places in the Belsize ward.

NW3 mothers marched to Brecknock Primary School, near Camden Town, in protest at this being classed as the closest school they had been offered a place at. Camden Council now say there are hundreds of empty places in primary schools all across the borough. St Aloysius Primary School, in Somers Town, is due to close at Christmas because it has too many empty places.

But the DfE said in its application “there is clearly a demand for Abacus Belsize Primary School”, adding: “It was outlined that there was significant demand for Abacus Belsize Primary School, even in its current temporary location, with an oversubscription for places and the need to provide choice in education provision for parents.”

The police station was shut down by Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London, and the building was transferred to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, then Eric Pickles, now Lord Pickles. An earlier application to create a 420-pupil school in 2016 was rejected by Camden planners who said an extension was too bulky and there was no need for a school of this size in the area.

The application says the new designs address all the concerns including halving the size of the school’s intake, scrapping a rooftop playground, preserving all trees and removing the “large-scale rear extension”.

The secular Abacus school was rated “outstanding” in 2015 by Ofsted and is considered to be one of the top five schools in Camden, according to the application. It says 76 alternative sites were considered between 2012 and 2018.

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