Objection to Ark School

[See also our objection to the new proposal, September 2017]

Barnet Residents Association have submitted an objection to the proposal to build a new school on the old site of Barnet Football Club at Underhill. The full Planning Application can be found on the Barnet Council website under Application No.16/5948/FUL. See https://publicaccess.barnet.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=ODE684JIH0X00. The closing date for Objections to be made is Friday 21st October 2016.

The text of our objection is below.


PLANNING APPLICATION UNDERHILL STADIUM SITE 16/5948/FUL

This is an OBJECTION from the Barnet Residents Association

The data quoted in this Objection is taken from the Application documents unless otherwise stated.

A large number of Objections have already been recorded in relation to traffic, parking for both parents and staff, and amenity impact on neighbouring properties. We wish to add in each of these areas.

TRAFFIC

The Application is supported by a Traffic Assessment which provides extensive data on traffic movements. It is acknowledged that traffic at the junctions at Fairfield Way/Barnet Hill/Mays Lane and at Mays Lane/Barnet Lane already exceeds capacity at peak hours and growth of up to 30% is anticipated by 2024. Ark traffic will add to the peak hour demand. Amelioration is proposed by creating a dedicated right turn from Mays Lane into Barnet Lane and remodelling the Barnet Hill junction including the addition of traffic lights at Fairfield Way. Whilst these measures may offer some relief they do not represent the radical solutions that will be needed to avoid serious congestion.

STUDENT TRAVEL

For the number of children who walk to school comparisons are made with Ark Enfield and Ark Wembley Academies. We find these comparisons rather irrelevant as local factors will be quite different. The claim that 51% of junior and 31% of secondary pupils will walk is highly doubtful. If that is indeed the case then it will be only be as a consequence of large numbers of local children being diverted from nearby Totteridge Academy and Underhill/Grasvenor schools, resulting in a widening of their catchment areas, leading in turn to more car/bus journeys to those schools. We do not accept that in overall terms across all the schools in the immediate area many of the additional children attending these local schools will be walking.

The Travel Plan is mainly a matter of exhortation to use means other than the car and in practice such measures have had limited impact elsewhere. This school will have an intake travelling up to five miles (Ark School’s own admission) and we believe the number of car journeys will substantially exceed the figures given. There is no drop-off point on site other than the car park to the south of the cricket field on Barnet Lane. It is anticipated that 90 Junior and 200 secondary children will be dropped there. Moving around in this carpark is difficult as is access from several directions. A large proportion of drop-offs will inevitably be in streets close to the school. The drop-off provision is wholly inadequate.

The only positive concession to travel difficulties is staggered start/finish times for the two schools on site, but all journeys except those leaving later for the senior school are at peak times.

STAFF TRAVEL

There is provision of 62 staff parking places (for 150 staff). Again, a questionable comparison is made with another Ark Academy (Enfield) where 37% of staff drive. This figure is used to predict what proportion of staff will drive to Ark Pioneer at Underhill. However, local circumstances are very different, with affordability of housing a significant factor in whether teachers live locally and do not drive to school. There are three other schools very close to the Ark Pioneer site and figures for the mode of travel to these schools would be far more appropriate. The current estimate of staff driving to the ark academy should be discounted and more appropriate figures produced.

The Travel Plan also identifies parking spaces in surrounding streets though without saying whether there is an expectation that numbers of staff will be using them. Parking congestion in streets very close to the school is inevitable.

IMPACT ON NEIGHBOURS

The buildings will be a little higher than the former stadium main stand and significantly higher than the stands on the other three sides. Three floors may seem reasonable, but the height of each floor is significantly greater than that of domestic housing and two floors equal the ridge height of houses to the north and east of the site. There is the prospect of a significant loss of amenity for these residents. It is proposed to provide tree screening but these will have to be higher than most domestic residents would want to see at the end of their gardens, and there is likely to be a significant loss of light for those houses to the north on Westcombe Drive.

POLLUTION

We struggle to understand the value of the section on air pollution as the only data provided refers to High Barnet High St and Chalgrove Primary School in Finchley Central near to the North Circular Road. It should not be difficult to produce authoritative measurements for the area immediately around the proposed school. We consider this is essential to be carried out prior to any decision on the Application.

OVERALL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

We consider that the concerns that have been identified above put a major question mark over the suitability of this site for a large school. This properly begs the question whether this school is essential at all in the context of future educational needs in the Borough, and, if these places are indeed needed whether this is the most appropriate location.

ALTERNATIVE SITES

In the Planning Statement Sequential Assessment there is a lengthy analysis of alternative sites around the Borough that were considered and in each case, the reasons for rejecting them. We found this approach a little odd as it appears to be an acknowledgement that the school is not needed to meet any identified local demand but is responding to a Borough-wide need (discussed later). There was no analysis of the potential to expand existing schools, and most astonishingly, the Whalebones site in Wood Street in High Barnet was not included in the assessment. Yet, this is a green field site of similar size to the Underhill site, in a conservation area but not Green Belt, and the owning Charitable Trust have advised Barnet Council of their desire to dispose of the site. The work that has been done on alternative sites is evidently inadequate.

THE NEED FOR THE SCHOOL

One of the claims made for the requirement for such a large school is that the ‘all-through’ model produces better results because of the continuity between junior and senior schools on one site, with synergy, staff collaboration and cultural links making a significant positive impact. But Ark Pioneer will not be like this. Only two of the six senior school forms will move up from the junior school, with the rest of the intake bringing very different experiences from other schools. Thus the junior-senior link becomes somewhat tenuous and is hardly a strong enough argument to justify the necessity for both schools to be on one site.

In assessing the data provided in the Application the figures in the Environmental Statement are all drawn from data assembled for the ‘study area’ defined as High Barnet, Underhill, Totteridge and Oakleigh Wards. But, we are also told that the school will take children from East Barnet and Brunswick Park, yet no data for these two Wards is included. There should be a fundamental review of the data in the Application to ensure the information and arguments reflect the entire area that the school will be serving.

POPULATION GROWTH AND THE NEED FOR SCHOOL PLACES

For the Borough, the population is expected to grow by 31% from 2014 t0 2039. The child population is about 10% of the total, less than elsewhere. In 2015/16 the 88 schools in the Borough with 29,766 places had 2,189 spare places – around 8%. 32 schools are full or over-capacity with 56 having spare places. These figures suggest there is no immediate crisis calling for additional school places in the Borough.

At junior level, since 2010 the Council has consistently over-estimated the predicted number of junior-age children by a considerable margin, and the study reports that growth is slowing. There is no information available on whether over-subscribed schools result from local population pressures or parental preferences. We do know that in High Barnet/ Underhill the junior places are over-capacity but that Totteridge Academy is substantially under-subscribed.

A breakdown in population growth by Ward is not provided for the study area but we can estimate from the anticipated number of new homes. The Council Local Plan identifies 22,500 additional homes across the Borough and the locations for most of these are known. The Environmental Study accompanying the Application identifies that in the four Wards covered by the study area an extra 1729 homes are expected to be built by 2029-30. However, this figure appears to include double counting as all the properties on Dollis Valley are described as new homes when 436 are actually replacing those being demolished. So we assume the correct figure is 1293 – less than 6% of the total extra homes predicted for the Borough. We estimate that in High Barnet/Underhill the number of extra homes is likely to be no more than 400, which is reflected in the Council’s assessment that the extra junior places needed for this area is no more than one/two forms of entry (FE). A lot of flats are being built in Totteridge along the High Rd but these appear to be mainly aimed at the affluent market and so may not house very many children. We are aware that major developments in East Barnet and Brunswick Park Wards are expected to deliver 1500 or more additional homes, but there is no data offered on the potential future shortfall in school places. We are aware that a five form of entry secondary school is planned for Brunswick Park.

Perhaps reflecting the anticipated low growth in the local population, the Application puts a great deal of effort into analysing the numbers of children on Dollis Valley. The existing number of 385 children in the 436 homes to be demolished is extrapolated to 504 in 630 new homes. But many of the existing social tenants are not being rehoused locally – only 50% of the social homes will remain, the rest all becoming owner-occupied. We suspect that these social changes will lower the number of children per household to the point where any overall increase may be insignificant. As it happens, a substantial number of the new properties are now occupied, and using information from these new homes would enable far more meaningful estimates of the future number of children on the estate to be prepared.

All this data supports the view that in High Barnet/Underhill the pressure for extra school places is limited, as indeed it appears to be for the surrounding Wards. We acknowledge the need for at least one FE at junior level.

The Council estimates that between 20 and 33 additional FE will be needed across the Borough at secondary level. No further breakdown has been provided so we do not know how robust these estimates are, precisely where the shortfall exists, nor how many new places across the Borough are in the pipeline to meet the shortfall. But from what we do know about local population growth, and with several hundred vacancies at Totteridge Academy, it is difficult not to conclude that, other than as a direct consequence of parental preference, the area does not need any additional places at secondary level. If the extra secondary places are to be properly justified the Application should be supported by a much more in-depth analysis of demand.

THE LOCATION OF THE JUNIOR SCHOOL PLACES

We have acknowledged the need for more junior places in the area, estimated by the council to be between one and two FE. However, data that we obtained for junior school applications in 2015 demonstrated that schools in High Barnet were substantially over-subscribed (Foulds by a factor of three), whist Underhill School and Whitings Hill School had numbers of Applications that just matched or were below capacity. The demand for more places is evidently in High Barnet, so providing for the shortfall in the Underhill area is evidently contrary to what parents appear to be looking for. We have suggested elsewhere to the Council that there are options to examine in High Barnet for providing some or all of the extra places needed. We are also aware that Underhill School has the capacity to expand by one FE, which would provide a fall-back solution which would eliminate the need for the Ark junior school entirely. Additional junior places which would better serve the apparent wishes of parents could be provided elsewhere than the proposed Ark school, and this should not be difficult to achieve.

PARENTAL PREFERENCES

This is a sensitive issue but the reality of what happens in our area has to be recognised. Totteridge, High Barnet and Oakleigh Wards are the 1st, 4th and 7th most affluent Wards in the Borough. Underhill is 19th out of 21 Wards. This difference in affluence is reflected in the schools’ intake. Underhill School, Whitings Hill School and Totteridge Academy all have more than 20% of children on free school meals and more than 40% of children having English as a second language. By contrast, the other schools in the area have a maximum of 13% with English as a second language and fewer than 10% on free school meals, and for most schools these figures are much lower. The schools serving less affluent families struggle to fill their places whilst the schools popular with affluent families are over-subscribed. Whilst QE Girls satisfies demand, many parents of boys in the wider area cannot find places locally that meet their aspirations and look elsewhere, often outside the Borough.

The ethos of Ark Schools is to successfully educate children from under-privileged backgrounds. So at Ark Pioneer, the likelihood is that they are going to compete with nearby schools with more than a sufficiency of places already serving that same demoraphic group. It is very questionable whether more affluent parents will change established behaviour and be satisfied with additional places at a school with a similar demographic intake to Totteridge Academy. Excluding Totteridge, other schools in the area achieve better GCSE results than schools in the Ark chain. Given that the overall limited demand for additional places over the wider area is not excessive, it is difficult to foresee a situation other than one in which large numbers of less affluent children will be travelling from elsewhere to take up the places at Ark Pioneer (and/or there will be displacement from local schools serving a similar demographic group which will then see more vacancies as a result).

CONCLUSION

We have identified above several areas of inadequate data and analysis. These should be corrected.

There are significant environmental difficulties in the immediate area that make the site unsuitable for a school, certainly one of this size.

There are strong arguments to remove the junior school from the project entirely and seek alternative provision for this age group in the surrounding area where demand is evident.

Far more robust data should be provided to justify the necessity for the secondary school, including what might be the optimum size given the number of vacancies nearby, established parental choice, and the projected low population growth.

Given the socio-economic nature of the area Ark Pioneer will struggle to appeal to parents in the local area outside Underhill. The prospect is that large numbers of less-privileged children will be travelling in, often from a considerable distance away. In addition, the viability of nearby schools may be threatened, and the aspirations of large numbers of parents living in the four local Wards, particularly parents of boys, will remain unfulfilled.

October 2016