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Kingsgate school expands… a mile away

While debate rages on whether we need a new secondary school in the area, younger children are almost certainly getting a “new school”. Why the quote marks? Well, it’s not technically a new school, because that would add to the bureaucratic hoops – it’s going to be an extension to Kingsgate School, only it probably won’t be anywhere near Kingsgate’s existing premises.

The plan has been floating around for some time – Camden agreed to the idea in July 2012 – but this week we moved into the consultation phase. This might seem like a no-brainer. Population projections predict demand; Kingsgate – deemed to be outstanding by OFSTED – is already bursting at the seams, so lets build a new school.

Kingsgate has two classes for each year group (60 children). The expansion will allow it to double that to 120 children. They’ll be split across the sites by age. The new site will teach 360 kids aged 4-7, and provide nursery places for 52 children aged 3-4. The existing Kingsgate site will teach the 8-11 year olds

Where?
Camden has identified Liddell Road as its preferred site for a new school. Where’s that, you ask. It’s the light industrial estate just off Maygrove Road that you may have walked past but have almost certainly never walked into unless you work in one of the businesses there.

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How’s it funded?
Here’s the bit that’s going to cause more challenges. To fund the school, the council also needs to build 100 homes on the site. Yep. 100 more homes coming to West Hampstead. The local businesses that are already there? They’ll have to move out. There’ll be some “employment space” as part of the development, but as we’ve seen with Handrail House on Maygrove Road, it’s not always easy to lure in office-based businesses to the area.

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Confusingly, in what seems like a Kafkaesque move, there will be two consultations and two separate proposals. The first, running now, is for the school. The second will come next year and will be for the rest of the development. But the two are inextricably linked, so it’s hard to imagine that if the school is given the go-ahead that the rest of the development wouldn’t be a done deal.

There are lots of questions that need to be addressed: Will the developments around the new school will be right for the area? What’s the catchment area of the new dual-site school to be? Will the housing be affordable to ordinary people, or will it be sold off to investors as looks to be happening at West Hampstead Square? Will the employment space be designated as office only, or will workshops and studios be allowed in (for which there does appear to be some demand)? How will parents with children at both sites manage? Will it increase traffic?

An integrated plan would surely make more sense and then residents could discuss how the whole thing might work. I don’t get the sense that too many people object to the idea of a new primary school, nor especially to the location, but there are a lot of other considerations if this is to be a successful development.

Assuming the Neighbourhood Development Plan is ratified in the referendum next year, this will be the first major development over which it will have some influence. It will be an interesting test case as this development touches on housing, the local economy, public services, green spaces and transport. If Camden rides roughshod over NDP policies, it will serve notice to any developer that “Localism” is merely a sop to the community rather than something with statutory teeth.

What’s the timeframe?
The school consultation runs from now to October 15th. The results will be presented as part of a business case report to Camden cabinet in December. The separate consultation on the design for the redevelopment of Liddell Road will take place in 2014 as part of the planning application process assuming the school is approved.

In early 2015, the school will consult on any changes to its admissions policy in January and February, with the policy being determined in April 15. Businesses will have left the site (vacant possession) and the works will start, running through to the summer of 2016. The new school would open at the start of the 2016/17 school year.

To respond to the consultation, and find out a bit more information, head to Camden’s dedicated webpage or download the leaflet.