A Planning Inspector has dismissed two joined appeals brought by the Government’s Department for Education and Science against decisions of the London Borough of Camden refusing planning permission and listed building consent for a change of use and associated works to convert the Grade II listed Former Hampstead Police Station at Rosslyn Hill, London NW3 1PD into a one form entry Primary School. Planning permission and listed building consent had been refused on four grounds: negative impacts in terms of traffic congestion, noise, air quality and heritage value of the existing building. As well as the main parties, a local residents’ group, Hampstead Community for Responsible Development (HCRD) participated in the appeals as a Rule 6 party.
During a seven day inquiry which was conducted using remote video conferencing software, the Inspector heard expert evidence on transport, noise, air quality and heritage. A number of local residents also gave evidence about the existing character of the local area and the likely impact of the proposed school in that context.
The Inspector upheld the Council’s reasons for refusal on noise, air quality and heritage.
On the issue of the noise impact on the amenity of neighbouring residents, the Inspector found that the noise experienced would be above the significant observed adverse effect level and would conflict with paragraph 180 NPPF and with the aims of Local Plan policy A1 concerned with protecting quality of life. During play, residents would be likely to notice frequent very loud and distracting peaks of noise due to children playing – and letting off steam as they should – which would be completely different to the existing quiet noise environment. The Inspector accepted the Council’s submissions that the Appellant’s reliance on noise parameters for customers in entertainment premises was misplaced, given the very different nature of noise produced by children. He referred to the sudden, ‘peaky’ characteristic of noise from children which has an emotional content and a tonality that had not been appropriately allowed for in the Appellant’s noise assessment. The proposed acoustic barrier relied on by the Appellant as noise mitigation would only have a marginally perceptible effect and it was unreasonable to expect neighbours to have to shut their windows during play times, particularly in the middle of the day and in periods of warmer weather. The Appellant’s proposed two hour time limit for playground use would be unduly restrictive and would pose practical problems in terms of enforcement. The Inspector also gave weight to a submission made by HCRD that apart from the former stable block, no part of the proposed school buildings would be as close to the main part of the playground as the dwellings on Downshire Hill. He found that quality of life would be noticeably and significantly diminished for neighbouring residents, due to noise effects which were incapable of mitigation and undesirable.
On air quality, the Inspector found that due to its location, the proposed development was in clear conflict with emerging policy S3(B3) of the Intend to Publish Version of the draft London Plan, which advises that development proposals for education and childcare facilities should locate entrances and playgrounds away from busy roads. He found that notwithstanding the Appellant’s arguments to the contrary, it could not be said that the school entrance on Downshire Hill was sited away from a busy road. Projected pollution levels in the playground, while not above legal limits, would be elevated compared with a policy-compliant location, and air would be taken from the playground to be circulated around the school building. He attached weight to the fact that the school’s location, once fixed, could not be changed – it would always be next to a main road with a corresponding increased risk and the potential for harm due to increased levels of air-borne pollutants. He agreed with the Council and HCRD that the selected site signally failed the policy objective of emerging policy S3 and largely also failed the aspirational goals of that policy. A degree of pollution experienced by an especially vulnerable group, young children, would be avoided if the proposed school site were not on a busy road.
On heritage, the Inspector found that less than substantial harm at the upper end of the scale would be caused to the significance of the listed building, and that the proposed scheme would conflict with the heritage protection aims of Local Plan policy D2 and Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan policy DH2. He accepted the Council and HCRD’s evidence that an important feature of the listed building, as recognised in the enhanced list description, was its largely intact plan form. He found that the degree of change proposed by the Appellant was of an entirely different order to the alterations formerly carried out by the police, noting that “it can only be assumed that the enhanced list entry had only limited bearing on the design solution adopted, which appears to follow mainly from the requirements of the brief for a state-funded school”. He agreed with the assessment of the Council and HCRD’s expert witnesses that the ground floor of the main building would “essentially be gutted”, and that the significance of the central police station stair would be greatly reduced by its being boxed in plywood. The proposed plan form would erase all traces of the former use except for minor remnants, and the Appellant had not demonstrated that the proposed school use was the optimum viable use. The heritage benefit of minor improvements proposed by the Appellant paled into insignificance when compared with the extent of the harm.
The Inspector’s overall planning balance and reasons for the dismissal of the appeals cannot be summarised more effectively than in his own concluding paragraph:
“The benefits of a local school site for local children are very significant and attract great weight. The disbenefits arise from 1) the need to adapt a building not designed for school use with distinct architectural and heritage value, necessitating very significant intrusive alteration with limited heritage benefits, amounting to a high level of ‘less than substantial’ harm; 2) the siting of the school close to a busy road, inevitably exposing children for the foreseeable future to higher relative levels of pollution, more serious at certain times of day, contrary to emerging policy in the [Intend to Publish Version of the draft London Plan] which attracts significant weight; and 3) the substantial level of annoyance and reduction in the quality of life for neighbouring occupiers in Downshire Hill due to noise. The latter is a consequence of the limited area available for play which is too close to existing dwellings and the ineffectiveness and unintended effects of the proposed mitigation measures. The need for a condition limiting play and requiring constant supervision and control of children to ensure the limit is not breached indicates the gravity of the fundamental issue of noise. Cumulatively, these matters considerably outweigh the benefits of utilising this building. The scheme should not proceed.”
A copy of the decision can be found here.
Morag Ellis QC acted for the London Borough of Camden, instructed by Jennifer Lunn of the London Borough of Camden’s Legal Services. Esther Drabkin-Reiter acted for HCRD, instructed by Christine Hereward of Hereward & Co Solicitors.