The redevelopment of Liddell Road is a cornerstone of Camden’s plans for West Hampstead. The site is presently occupied by a dwindling number of businesses. Dwindling because Camden, which owns the land, has already begun to terminate their leases and they are trying to find alternative premises.
Liddell Road is slated to be the site for a new local authority primary school opening in September 2016. Technically, this is an expansion of Kingsgate School – although it’s very much a satellite expansion as the two sites are almost a mile apart.
To pay for this school, cash-strapped Camden is planning to build residential flats for private sale on the site alongside an office block. The original plan has been revised and the bulk of the 105 flats will be in a 14-storey high building as well as lower-rise units. That’s higher than the tallest Ballymore block at West Hampstead Square. There is also criticism that Camden has been awarded £6m in central government funding for school building and plans to make a £3m profit from the development, but all that money is to be spent elsewhere rather than some (or all) of it being used to enable some affordable housing in the Liddell Road scheme.
Camden’s quota for affordable housing in any private development is 50% of floorspace. This is rarely met in reality, but many will find it hard to swallow that a development led by the council itself has absolutely no affordable housing whatsoever. It should put more pressure on the development of 156 West End Lane to deliver at or even over quota if West Hampstead is to remain an even slightly mixed community and not become a neighbourhood dominated by two-bed flats of affluent young professionals.
The original proposals was for commercial space for around 130 jobs, which has been raised to 160. This is now being mooted as flexible office space for fast growing small busineses.
The West Hampstead International School – a campaign for an enormous primary/secondary free school – would like the Liddell Road site for its school, and a new free school called Kilburn Grange free school already has Department for Education approval.
It plans to move into the former College of North West London on Priory Park Road in Kilburn once the Marylebone Boys free school, which opens there this September, moves to its permanent home in Paddington a year later. It will offer 420 places, which is precisely the number of primary places locally that are needed. Interestingly, both its consultation meetings are being held in Kingsgate Community Centre, the Camden side of Kilburn, and firmly within the catchment of any expanded Kingsgate School.
Would this mean that the Kingsgate expansion school is still needed? Would it mean that the primary school component of the West Hampstead International School was still needed? To move from too few primary places to too many – and all at the cost of the tallest tower block in West Hampstead – would seem perverse.
Find out more
There are meetings about this (of course). Next week there are public drop-in events
Tuesday July 15th
9am-12pm Sidings Community Centre, 150 Brassey Road
1pm-4pm West Hampstead Community Centre, 17 Dornfell Street
6.30pm-8.30pm Sidings Community Centre
Wednesday 16 July
5pm-8pm West Hampstead library.
The big meeting though is on July 22nd from 7-9pm when there’s a “Devlopment Management Forum” at Sidings Community Centre. If you’re interested in this – for, against, or want to know more – this is the place to come. For more info on the proposal, Camden has a dedicated page.
It’s fast becoming the most divisive issue in north-west Camden politics. Do we need more schools? What sort of schools? Where should they be? Who should run them?
It’s universally accepted that a new primary school is needed in our part of Camden. Under current legislation, a new school would have to be an academy – i.e., outside of local authority control. The only way round this is to expand an existing school.
Camden council, rightly proud of its primary schools, proposes to expand Kingsgate Primary School, which sits on the corner of Kingsgate Road and Messina Avenue. Kingsgate can’t expand on its existing site. Instead, the council wants to open a remote extension on what is now the Liddell Road industrial estate. We have covered this in some detail before. To fund the expansion, the council plans to allow a private residential development to occupy the rest of the site – controversially with next to no affordable housing, even though it intends to make a £9 million profit on the site (£3m from the housing + the £6m central government funding it has received since the first plans were put forward). It is not clear whether that £9m would be reinvested in West Hampstead, or be dispersed throughout the borough.
It’s not universally accepted that we need another secondary school. In fact it’s almost impossible to get clarity on the statistics being bandied around by both sides.
Parents campaigning for a new school mix up statistics from different geographic areas: constituency, ward, borough, postcode, which makes it hard to decipher the true need. Here’s the free school page on numbers (including links to the data). Meanwhile, the council argues that its analysis shows that there will be sufficient school places in the borough until 2022/23, including the NW6 area.
The only stat that seems clear cut is that across Camden, eight children ended up without a secondary school place in the last round of allocations.
The group pushing for a free school – already named the West Hampstead International School – submitted its application to the Department for Education about 10 days ago. The application is now for a primary and secondary school, and parents are also eyeing up the Liddell Road site. With 1,600 students, it would be the largest school in Camden when full in 2022, so potential sites are not obvious.
Dr Clare Craig submits the free school application to the DfE
If the free school can’t secure the Liddell Road site, it’s not clear where else it could set up. The campaign website says only “Before securing a site we need to show the Department for Education there is sufficient demand so the school will be full when it opens. We are confident some of the brownfield land at the West Hampstead railway interchange can be secured for the school.”
There are almost no brownfield sites left that would be large enough – 156 West End Lane is large, but would be controversial for a school given the traffic situation on West End Lane. The O2 car park redevelopment would certainly have the size, but is a long way off. There’s likely to be more development of Blackburn Road, which could work but again, it’s not imminent and the school is hoping to take its first children in September 2015.
This issue of location has dogged proposed free schools locally. It’s been widely reported that some of these have had to tell parents who thought their child had a place that they don’t have a site and therefore parents should look at local authority options. The lack of sites is turning out to be a major problem and it’s hard to imagine that parents would have confidence in a school that has yet to secure classrooms but wants to open in 2015.
What do the parties have to say? Labour opposes the idea of a new secondary school. It disputes the figures that suggest demand, and is pushing hard for the Kingsgate primary expansion on Liddell Road. It has by far the clearest position of the three main parties.
The Conservatives, said council candidate Andrew Parkinson at hustings, are “completely against Liddell Road as a site for a primary school”. In a more considered written response, he said, “Until we are satisfied that a full search for and assessment of other potential sites has been carried out, we will continue to oppose the choice of Liddell Road”.
The party has a manifesto commitment to supporting the free school but doesn’t seem to be throwing its weight behind the statistical analysis suggesting that a new school is needed, simply saying “Local people tell us that there are not enough local state school places for our children.”
Nor are the Tories willing to say where such a school would be located:
As for potential sites apart from Liddell Road, it would be inappropriate to name one site until a full assessment of suitability both for children and residents is carried out. However, the Travis Perkins building has been closed for three years and could potentially support either a primary or secondary school. Further, West Hampstead is to undergo significant change in the next few years as the railway lands (including sites at the O2 centre and Midland Crescent) are developed. The potential for a school to be included within these developments will also need to be fully considered.
Caught between the two seem to be the Liberal Democrats. They have argued against the expansion of Kingsgate to Liddell Road which, according to Cllr John Bryant at Monday night’s hustings, “for educational reasons, we think is wrong”. However, the party is not against Liddell Road being used as a primary school site, arguing that “we do not believe that the planned expansion of Kingsgate School is the right solution, and would prefer to proceed with either a totally new stand-alone primary school or consider the merits of a through school.”
In terms of supporting the free school, the Lib Dems say that they “support local campaigns for new schools, but would wish those schools to form part of the Camden family of schools”, which presumably means that they would come under some form of local authority control. This is broadly in line with national party policy on free schools, which boils down to “knock yourself out, but they’ve got to stick to the national curriculum and use qualified teachers”.
In a lengthy written response, the Lib Dems are keen to point out that they have supported the parents behind the free school campaign (although they acutally stop short of saying they support the proposed school itself), but that they also support Hampstead School as a “good local school.”
Where might a secondary school go?
“We believe that a general review of suitable sites for both primary and secondary school provisions in the West Hampstead and Kilburn area is needed, looking at all possible sites in the area, including Liddell Road itself, but taking full advantage of central government funding to avoid unnecessarily pushing businesses off of the site and using private housing to fund a school there; the 156 West End Lane site and other future development sites including the O2 car park, although it is important to be aware that unlike the other two sites mentioned that is not of course owned by the London Borough of Camden.”
When asked how they would ensure school place provision should the free school application fail, the Lib Dems’ response is
“We would say that the expansion of Emmanuel School and the building of the UCL Academy in Swiss Cottage have already gone a considerable way to addressing the shortage of both primary and secondary places in the area.” They continue “Should the WHIS application fail on technical grounds, we would encourage this parents’ group to continue in their efforts to provide further secondary school places in our area, possibly looking outside the precise geographical area of West Hampstead and Fortune Green.”
For the Greens, Leila Mars said at the hustings that the party supports free schools. This is in fact, not Green Party policy. The policy is to bring existing free schools back under local authority control.
UKIP‘s Magnus Nielsen didn’t have anything specifically to say on this issue at hustings, other than to recognise that primary education is very important. This was possibly the least controversial thing he said all evening.
Listen to all the parties’ comments on the schools question from last Monday night’s hustings
The free school campaign is making waves again. Make that free schools. Plural. Having struggled to get much traction in the latter half of 2013, the NW6 Free School group has re-emerged with a new name, a shiny website and a mildly controversial claim that Liddell Road would be the ideal site for its schools – a primary and secondary.
A school on Liddell Road? Doesn’t that sound vaguely familiar?
At the moment, Camden is planning to build its own state primary school on the Liddell Road industrial estate. It’s an extension to Kingsgate School and would house kids from 3-7 (the existing Kingsgate site would house the 7-11 year-olds).
To pay for this, the council plans to sell off the rest of the land at Liddell Road for 120 flats and some commercial space. Despite broad acceptance of the need for more primary places, there have been many objections to this overall proposal and to the way in which the decision has been made.
Dr Clare Craig, the public face of the free schools campaign, argues that the site should be used to house its schools instead of Camden’s. Originally, the free school campaign wanted a secondary school only. The plan to include a primary school as well began before Christmas. Dr Craig: “We realised that the Department for Education want to see that free school groups are addressing the needs of their whole community and we would be failing to do that if we didn’t have a primary offer too.”
The campaign, now operating under its new name of “The West Hampstead International School”, has also brought its schedule nearer with an ambition to open in 2015 rather than 2016 as originally proposed. This would mean opening a year ahead of Camden’s own proposal.
The school(s) would have a two-form primary school entry and a six-form secondary entry. To get government backing, the Department for Eduction apparently likes to see evidence that there’s twice as much interest in a new school as places. This means the campaigners need 120 signatures from parents of children starting reception in each of the first two years, and more than 300 for those starting Year 7 in those years. In other words, around 850 parents have to sign up. As of the start of this week, the campaign had more than 200, although apparently not all of the right age.
If the campaign fail to get enough signatories by the start of May, the 2015 opening date will be impossible to meet and they will revert to 2016, given them more time to collect support. Even now, opening two schools within 18 months with no site allocated and no buildings up seems like an extremely tall order.
It’s hard to imagine Camden, which owns the Liddell Road site, deciding to reverse its decision and allow a free school to open there, even if the campaign could muster the support it needs.
Dr Craig has said that the group is looking at two other sites, which are privately owned. Apparently, she is not allowed to reveal where the sites are until after negotiations. There are not many options in the area though – there’s always idle chatter about using 156 West End Lane (Travis Perkins) for schooling, but there are practical difficulties and it seems unlikely it would be redeveloped in time anyway. The other options might be down Blackburn Road.
Free school agnostics might see the primary school option as a way of removing the problem of a split-site Kingsgate school. But are there enough of them with children of exactly right age? To give some context, the 2011 census counted 3,279 children aged 0-15 in West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards. No wonder then that, while the free school is choosing to have “most of our admissions” based on a fairly tight catchment area, there will also be places “allocated by lottery” for anyone living within two miles.
The group is holding a series of public meetings to explain more about its proposals. The next one is Monday Feb 10th in the synagogue community hall. The other two in West Hampstead are on March 1st and March 11th.