Objection to Ark School

[Note (December 2017). The revised planning application referred to below was approved by the Barnet Council Planning Committee, and the Mayor of London has decided not to intervene in the planning approval.]

Though refused planning consent earlier this year the Ark Pioneer academy has submitted a further application, this time for a secondary school only. We had argued that a junior school was not needed and were pleased to see that this has been dropped from the latest application. Though the smaller school does overcome some of the previous concerns regarding the suitability of such a large school on this site, we are still not satisfied that the school is needed in this part of the Borough and concerns about traffic remain. For more on this read our objection.


This is an OBJECTION on behalf of Barnet Residents Association

We acknowledge that the removal of the junior school included in the previous application does overcome a number of the concerns we previously expressed.  Our objection to this application addresses just two issues:

1. Whether there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ which justify the school being in this Green Belt location, and

2. Whether the concerns over traffic congestion have been ameliorated

‘Exceptional circumstances’

In our previous objection we pointed out that the need for the secondary school had not been proven.  The blanket argument that some 23FE were needed across the Borough was inadequate.  We were looking for much more precise data to justify where the pupils would be coming from, both to justify the need for the 6FE Ark school and to provide assurance that the viability of the nearby Totteridge Academy would not be prejudiced.  There should be clear justification citing the exceptional circumstances needed to justify building a school on this Green Belt site.   No such information was forthcoming and similarly has not been provided for this application. 

We have examined the GLA data on population projections which we understand was the basis of the assessment by the LA that the Borough had a future shortfall of 23FE at secondary level. 

The population data shows that for those wards that might realistically constitute a ‘wider’ catchment area for the Ark school, viz High Barnet, Underhill, Totteridge, Oakleigh, East Barnet, Brunswick Park and Mill Hill, the number of 11 year olds will peak with an estimated additional 200 three years from now and decline thereafter.  Within some of these wards a large proportion of children go to private school (up to 50% in Totteridge) so the additional demand for state spaces will be considerably less than the 200 maximum.  Maybe in total there will at most be a peak shortfall of around 150 state places, or less than 5FE across the seven wards.  But Totteridge Academy currently has the capacity to absorb an additional 2FE, so the shortfall in state places for the seven wards listed above should be no more than   2/3FE.

At secondary level the need for these extra 2/3FE in the area will disappear after 2025.  Once we get beyond 2035 the number of 11 year olds in the seven wards are predicted to fall below 2017 levels, which is a clear indicator that by then either Totteridge Academy or The Ark Academy would no longer be viable if the pupils are just drawn from the seven wards.

Though extra demand for places in the east of the Borough will never exceed 3FE, nowhere near approaching the 6FE proposed for Ark, and only then for less than 10 years ahead, then it is evident that a new 6FE school could only be filled by a majority of children coming from a much wider area.  In the wards in the far west of the Borough the number of 11 year olds are expected to increase by over 30% and to continue to increase up to 2050, so many of the children needed to fill Totteridge/Ark could come from this area.  This does appear to us to be an unacceptable long-term solution for school provision across the Borough, both in terms of the needs of the children in the west, whose interests are being poorly met by a short-term expedient of building a school for them that is far away, and in terms of traffic concerns which we address below.  A new school basing its admissions on a short-term spike in local demand underpinned with children travelling a considerable distance from their home area does not, in our view, constitute ‘exceptional circumstances’ justifying building on Green Belt.  The evident long-term shortfall of places in wards in the west of the Borough indicates that efforts should be intensified to locate a new school there.

In recent years there has been a spike in demand for junior places in the area, though this is now receding. Sensibly, this extra demand has been met by the provision of temporary ‘bulge’ classes.  We have not seen any evidence that a similar solution has been explored at secondary level.  Such a solution could possibly deal with the identified short-term spike in demand in the east of the Borough.

Traffic congestion

The Mayor has recently published a draft Transport Strategy for the next 25 years which proposes many major initiatives to improve public transport, cycling and to curb car usage across London.  However, these initiatives are heavily directed to the centre or south of the Thames, with almost nothing north of the North Circular Rd.  In the north of Barnet there are no road improvements or public transport initiatives proposed that are likely to have an impact on current public transport patterns or car usage.  So our expectation is that the growth in traffic which has been evident over many years will continue and indeed get even worse as the many additional homes planned across the north of the Borough come on stream.

It is recognised that the Mays Lane/Barnet Hill junction is already overloaded. The congestion there is a significant hindrance to the economic and social well-being of the area and, as we have indicated above, it can only be expected to get worse.  The school run is a major contributor to traffic congestion, so school provision which results in many children being transported considerable distances is not something that this Borough should be encouraging, but which is what will be the case in Underhill.  Given the current traffic situation and an expectation of significant growth, we cannot support the creation of a school which will be predicated on the necessity of additional traffic coming into an area where traffic congestion will be an increasing problem.

Gordon Massey
Barnet Residents Association

September 2017