Residents revolt over super-size school

Written by  Tuesday, 06 September 2016 16:02
Unanimous show of hands residents decide Underhill is an inappropriate site for a school of 2,000 pupils Unanimous show of hands residents decide Underhill is an inappropriate site for a school of 2,000 pupils
After facing a barrage of complaints and criticism over proposal to build a new school for almost 2,000 pupils on what was formerly the Barnet Football Club stadium, the Ark Academy network admitted its plans were “not yet a done deal”.

The application to construct, and finance, what will be known as the Ark Pioneer Academy is being made by the government’s Educational Funding Agency – not the Borough of Barnet – but Barnet Council will be deciding whether or not to give it planning permission.

Well over 100 local residents from roads around the former Underhill football stadium attended a meeting organised by the council’s three Underhill councillors, and it ended with a unanimous vote, on a show of hands, to reject the proposal on the grounds that it was not the appropriate place to build a school of that size.

But the Ark Schools’ head of projects, Jenny Duncan, assured the meeting (5.9.2016) that the views of local residents would be taken into account in the coming weeks as work continued on preparing the plans and measures to alleviate traffic congestion and parking.

Ark aims to submit the application before the end of the year, in the hope that construction work can start early in 2017, so that the first classrooms will be ready for use in September 2018, at the start of the new academic year.

Ms Duncan assured local residents they would have “every opportunity” to submit their views once the application had been submitted to Barnet Council.

“We are listening. We know there is scepticism about the proposed new school. This is not a done deal. We now have to deal with the planning process, and we recognise it will be up to the planning committee to make a decision.”

Councillor Paul Edwards, who chaired the meeting, called for a vote on whether Underhill was an appropriate site for such a massive new school – a plan which was criticised by everyone who spoke, for being a catastrophic mistake because the area could not cope with such a large influx of pupils and staff.

Local roads were already “a huge traffic bottleneck”, and there was an acute lack of parking due to the narrowness of local streets and cars left by commuters using High Barnet tube station.

Councillor Edwards thanked Ms Duncan for acknowledging that it was still an open question as to whether the proposed school would get planning approval.

He welcomed the unanimous show of hands against siting the new academy at the former football stadium.

...and the view of the meeting is that this is the wrong place because it will mean huge problems for local residents, exacerbate the lack of parking, and cause terrible congestion.

“The applicant isn’t the local council, but the government’s Educational Funding Agency, and the view of the meeting is that this is the wrong place because it will mean huge problems for local residents, exacerbate the lack of parking, and cause terrible congestion.”

He predicted that if Barnet gave approval, there would be so much pressure on parking around Underhill that the council would have no alternative but to introduce a controlled parking zone, as was about to happen in roads around Barnet Hospital.

Following earlier consultation, there have been some changes to Ark’s original plan for an all-through academy of 1,890 pupils, from primary to sixth form, offering entry each academic year to six forms each with 30 pupils.

Ark Pioneer will now have two primary forms of entry, instead of three, and the number of car parking spaces – to accommodate a staff of 150 – has been increased from 43 to 62.

Val White, Barnet Council’s programme director for education, told the meeting there had been a huge growth around Underhill and High Barnet in the number of children aged 3-4-5-6 who would need secondary school places.

This new all-through school, from primary to sixth form, would be funded entirely by central government and it was a recognition of the fact that Barnet would need an extra 20 classes by 2020 and an extra 30 by 2024.

Ark Academy Paul Edwards chairs meeting with Jenny Duncan, head of projects for the Ark schools networkArk Academy Paul Edwards chairs meeting with Jenny Duncan, head of projects for the Ark schools networkTo cope with this, the borough needed the equivalent of an extra four secondary schools, a demand that would have to be met either by new schools or by expanding existing schools.

Most of the additional secondary places were needed in areas such as Colindale, Cricklewood and Brent Cross, but there had been expansion in the primary intake in the east of the borough and that would need secondary provision.

“It is difficult in London to find sites large enough for a secondary school and our need is to find secondary places for 3-5-year-old pupils.

We are now being offered a brand new school in the east of the borough.  

When challenged as to whether the nearby Totteridge Academy was under-subscribed, one reason why local residents doubted the need for a new academy, Ms White said the borough’s responsibility was to ensure there were enough pupils to fill every secondary space.

“But we have to respect parental choice and if parents choose alternative schools, there might be empty places.”

She said the figures showed that 70 per cent of the children in Barnet’s schools were Barnet residents, and 30 per cent were from outside the borough, but equally some Barnet parents sent their children to school outside the borough.

In response to residents’ questions, Ben Gascoigne of Quatro, an agency handling the public consultation, said that after listening to residents’ concerns extensive plans had been made for community use of the school’s facilities, including its performance areas, activity studios, sports hall, multi-use sports area, and the playing fields to the south of the site which would be leased from Barnet Council and restored for use.

The new school will have buildings or two and three storeys, a height equivalent to the existing stadium.

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10 comments

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 07 September 2016 09:33 posted by Katy Murphy

    Why don't they just focus on a secondary school!

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 07 September 2016 09:34 posted by Barry Pearce

    Why don't they just build extra blocks on each secondary school, and keep it as Barnet football club because that's what everybody wants

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 07 September 2016 09:35 posted by Roy Thrussell

    I am sure there is enough land at the Totteridge Academy to fulfil the need for extra classrooms needed for secondary education in this part of the borough, but you will find that to alleviate the concerns of residents regarding the traffic problems it will create, the offer of closing the Totteridge Academy will be considered & that will release prime land for redevelopment of up market housing. Someone in the council will be making a lot of money if this is allowed to proceed.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 07 September 2016 09:35 posted by Nick de Naeyer

    If they reduced the size of it AND expanded existing schools it would make some sense at least, but of course they wont make as much money that way.
    Make no mistake ARK are a business and they are less interested in education than profit. That is the point of the Academy model.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 07 September 2016 09:36 posted by Sally Beale

    Be careful what you wish for, that's all I'm sayin!

  • Comment Link Friday, 23 September 2016 11:01 posted by Linda OShea

    Yes that is what we all want the Football Club back in Barnet rather than in Cannons Park. We do not want another school in Barnet the traffic is bad enough as it is, it takes me 25 minutes on a bus to get to the station as it is. This would make matters worse than ever.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 27 September 2016 16:49 posted by Simon

    If we can't have our local football club back (Barnet FC) then the best use of the site would be some sports facilities, including swimming pool which would be a massive benefit to the whole community.

    Its fair to say that all of the residents close to this site, me included, are comprehensively against this scheme.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 05 October 2016 21:25 posted by Julie

    I think this article needs to be updated with the latest news that the application has been submitted to LB of Barnet Planning Dept:
    To view the proposal and make your comments go to:
    https://publicaccess.barnet.gov.uk/online-applications/

    Reference: 16/5948/FUL
    Address: Underhill Stadium and Hockey Club, Barnet Lane, Barnet, EN5 2DN

    Either use the associated "Make a Public Comment" option, or email to planning.enquiry@barnet.gov.uk
    or send comments by post to
    Development and Regulatory Services, Barnet House, 1255 High Road, Whetstone, London N20 0EJ
    The deadline for comments is 24 October 2016.
    Many of those in roads linked to Fairfield Way have not been officially notified apart from notices stuck on a few lamp posts!

  • Comment Link Saturday, 08 October 2016 13:22 posted by Andrew

    I'm a Barnet Society member and live very close to the proposed school. I therefore recognise all the concerns around traffic etc and these must be addressed. But I also have children nearing secondary school age and I can assure you of the urgent need for additional capacity in the area. We have a dysfunctional local system with a failing school (Totteridge) and an inaccessible one (QE Boys). High Barnet needs and deserves a new, high-quality secondary without delay.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 09 October 2016 16:08 posted by George T

    Regarding "community use" of the sports facilities of this poorly located mega-school. In practise, and it happens throughout this Borough with minimal controls to preserve the amenity of local residents, it means leasing out facilities to commercial operations and will extend the traffic and parking chaos in to the evenings and weekends.

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