Underhill super school rejected

Written by  Thursday, 26 January 2017 18:28
The internal courtyard of the proposed school The internal courtyard of the proposed school
Barnet Council’s planning committee has voted unanimously to reject plans to build a massive all-through academy school on the site of Barnet Football Club’s former stadium at Underhill.

Hendon Town Hall was packed with over eighty local residents, community representatives and councillors to hear objectors put their case, led by Robin Bishop, chair of the Barnet Society’s planning and environment group, and Tim Leffman, a teacher and long-standing Underhill resident.

Local community groups and Underhill residents have been resolute for months in their opposition to the plan to use the vacant stadium as the site for the proposed Ark Pioneer Academy offering places for 1,680 pupils, from nursery age to sixth form.

All told there were nineteen objectors who had asked to speak at the committee hearing and they agreed that the case against the plan should be put jointly by Mr Bishop and Mr Leffman.
Council planning officers recommended approval of the scheme, but after a lengthy discussion and question and answer that lasted for an hour and half, the nine members of the committee were unanimous in their decision to refuse permission (25.1.2017).

In his presentation to the committee, Mr Bishop said the case for a school of this size being built at Underhill was fundamentally flawed: he argued that the Department for Education was anxious to recoup some of its huge investment in purchasing the former stadium; Barnet Council needed to hit its target for extra school places within the borough; and the Ark Academy group wished to increase the number of schools in its chain.

He criticised the design of the school. Because of “incredibly tight” restraints on costs and the size of the site, the whole scheme had been distorted and the architects had been forced to take “off-the-peg boxes” and squash them into too small an area.

The school buildings as proposed would be damaging for pupils’ education and health, and the shortage of outdoor space would not be good for their wellbeing, as it was less than half the minimum recommended by the government.

..didn’t even face out onto the beautiful Dollis Valley

Another ground for objection, said Mr Bishop, was that the school was to be built on a Green Belt site but “didn’t even face out onto the beautiful Dollis Valley”.

Green Belt development was only permitted under “very exceptional circumstances” and these had not been proved. There was capacity for expansion at existing local primary and secondary schools and he urged the committee to reject the plan for “an over-sized school with such deeply unexceptional design qualities”.

In his submission, Mr Leffman argued that the council’s case for building a school of that size at Underhill was flawed as regards demand for school places. Hundreds of pupils would be forced to negotiate multiple highway lanes to reach bus stops, the tube station and homes to the east of the A1000.  

The consequent disruption to nearby roads would add considerable congestion and there would be a massive cost in enlarging the junction at Barnet Hill, Underhill and Fairfield Way.

After the hearing, Mr Bishop said their success owed much to the passion of Underhill residents and local school heads, and the backing of Underhill councillors. Among those who spoke against the plan from the floor was Councillor Caroline Stock.

Mr Bishop warned that there could be an appeal against the refusal to grant planning permission and it might succeed, but that could result in a backlash against those councillors and council officials who “seriously misjudged the strength of public and local councillor opposition”.

“It would be politically wiser for Ark, the Department for Education and Barnet Council to negotiate a scaled-down project. A sensible start would be to consult groups like the Barnet Society on alternative options, of which we know there are several.”

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9 comments

  • Comment Link Friday, 27 January 2017 10:38 posted by Barry Pearce

    Ha ha ha tough, now get Barnet fc back in there

  • Comment Link Friday, 27 January 2017 10:38 posted by Carey OConnor

    Booooo!! We just need secondary ☹️

  • Comment Link Friday, 27 January 2017 10:39 posted by Genevieve Abranson

    Build Barnet FC a new staduim there instead

  • Comment Link Friday, 27 January 2017 10:39 posted by Sharmistha Dhar-Michaels

    Unsurprisingly those objecting so strongly don't have to worry about which school their children should go to. Either their children are grown up or the people objecting don't even live in Barnet.

  • Comment Link Friday, 27 January 2017 18:45 posted by Jo Ruckman

    I am pleased with the result but for the sake of accuracy, one member voted for the proposal

  • Comment Link Saturday, 28 January 2017 19:34 posted by Quinton Dighton

    The point is that the proposed school was not just a secondary but primary and nursery too packed onto a site that's much too small for all that. Parents who think about the school their children go to would surely not want to send them somewhere thats horribly congested with less than half the recommended playspace?

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 January 2017 16:39 posted by Basabi Dhar

    Moving from from Pinner to Barnet, i feel Barnet needs good secondary school.. not every child can get a place in Barnet grammar schools

  • Comment Link Sunday, 19 February 2017 23:41 posted by John Stanley

    "Department of Education" / huge investment in purchasing the football ground. Who owned the ground ? and how much did the Dept of Education pay for the site ?

  • Comment Link Friday, 24 February 2017 03:40 posted by Sarah

    I heard Barnet Council sold the land at Underhill for £1, but maybe a 'fake news' thing I picked up somewhere. I can't believe that really! But thank goodness a huge school will not be there. If it had gone ahead the extra traffic and congestion would be awful, all that extra pollution from all the vehicles and possible gridlock on surrounding roads, adding to the existing badly congested roads around that area at rush hours and school drop offs/pick ups times. Would new roads be built to handle the extra traffic? And where would they put them if so?, as inevitably the extra traffic would end up on the main road A1000 or using Barnet Lane and Mays Lane areas which are already congested at those times. Thank goodness this was rejected - sometimes common sense still prevails. Please bring Barnet football club back to Barnet too! I think there's more to why they left Underhill - politics, council, money, owners, rent, etc, but I don't know so can't say anything about it, other than seems a bit fishy if you ask me. Anyone know the truth about it? Facts though, not hearsay, thanks.

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