Transport, travel and Abacus Belsize
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Abacus Belsize Primary is an Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ rated school that has been serving local families from temporary accommodation at some distance from its catchment area since 2013. Over the last six years it has been seeking a permanent home closer to the community it serves, to ensure its outstanding education can be conveniently available at a walkable distance for Belsize families
Assessing travel plans
A transport assessment, travel plan and traffic surveys are an important part of the planning application to transform the former Hampstead Police Station into a permanent home for Abacus Belsize Primary School. While some in the local community have raised concerns about the potential for additional traffic in the area, Camden Council’s Local Plan policies for transport and development (C2, A1) specify that there should be no increase in traffic as a result of the development of a building for use as a school in the borough. The studies submitted with the planning application demonstrate how the school’s ethos and car-free policy will in fact produce considerably less traffic than when the building was a police station, comfortably meeting the council’s policy aspirations.
Abacus Belsize has always been a ‘walk to school’ school. Its values and ethos demand it. The children already walk across Belsize every day, to and from the bus stops on the southern border of the catchment, to catch the bus to their temporary accommodation in King’s Cross.
Making a difference to traffic levels
According to a Camden New Journal article (18 June 2014), Hampstead Police Station was once staffed by 300 police officers. The site included a canteen, magistrates’ court, cells and a doctor’s surgery, and it had 14 parking spaces at the back. It was open and operated all day, every day. In contrast, the school will accommodate up to 210 pupils and around 24 staff who will be there for much shorter periods of the day and only during school terms – that’s 66 fewer people using the buildings overall, for only 195 days of the year.
Given that the site has been vacant for some years, it is possible to forget how busy it once was. To provide some kind of objective benchmark, the council’s planners asked for a survey of actual traffic movements for a similarly sized London police station now. It was agreed that Kentish Town Police Station, also in the Borough of Camden, would provide a reasonable comparison to the former Hampstead Police Station.
The vehicle movement survey, carried out by traffic consultants in September 2019, shows that on a typical weekday the Kentish Town Police Station generates 168 two-way vehicle trips in an average 12-hour period. It is likely that the Rosslyn Hill site would have generated a similar steady stream of trips.
In contrast, the school will aim to generate zero vehicle trips during the ‘school run’ from the moment it occupies its new home at Rosslyn Hill. The school will naturally generate single weekly collections of recycling and waste, and up to four deliveries a week for food, stationery and general supplies. It’s entirely reasonable to estimate that the school will generate substantially less traffic than the site’s previous use as a police station and magistrates’ court.
Several local residents have already reported that they never had a problem with the site’s use as a police station, in which case they really won’t have a problem with it being a school.
Travelling to and from school
The school’s existing travel plan at its temporary premises at the Jubilee Waterside Centre has already attained a Silver accreditation following Transport for London’s STARS (Sustainable Travel: Active, Responsible, Safe) scheme. The travel plan for the new location on Rosslyn Hill will be aiming for zero per cent private car use and this, along with its aspirations for a Gold STARS accreditation within two academic years of its move, would mean that Abacus Belsize Primary will be among the top 10 per cent of all London schools for its approach.
The vast majority of the children attending the school live within the catchment area and are currently bussed to their temporary site in King’s Cross each day. The school has carried out ‘hands-up’ travel mode surveys to show how children arrive at the private bus stop pick-up points within the catchment. The latest survey shows that 96 per cent of children walked, scooted, cycled or used public transport to the pick-up points, and four per cent were dropped off by car. Projecting this data onto a full school of 210 pupils at the new site, the ‘worst case’ would be that the school will generate eight drop-offs and pick-ups by car in the morning and afternoon school peak periods.
A trial of the 'walking bus' that will form part of the school's travel plan
This is genuinely the ‘worst case’ as the physical, promotional and educational measures in the school’s travel plan – like the well-established ‘walk to school’ ethos – already mean that dropping off or collecting children in a private car is completely against the school’s philosophy. The surveys show how far this is already embedded in current practice and of the few children that are currently dropped off at the private bus stop pick-up points by car, the majority are those few remaining siblings who live outside the catchment area. There will simply be no physical space or opportunity to park a car even briefly to drop off at the Rosslyn Hill site, where new zig-zag markings will be monitored and controlled by school staff and traffic wardens. By the time the school moves to its permanent home it will be filled with children living exclusively a walkable distance away in the catchment, and it is unlikely that even the estimated minimal number of private car trips will arise.