Overturning refusal recommendation in Barnet gains nomination for Planning Campaign of the Year

Thorncliffe has been nominated for Planning Campaign of the Year, for its work overturning a recommendation for refusal in Barnet earlier this year.

Back in February 2017, Kisharon (a school for special educational needs and disabilities in Barnet) was dismayed to discover that their plans to give an extra 72 school places to children in need was facing refusal by Barnet Council officers. Despite the new school site being the last option for Kisharon’s expansion, officers thought that the needs of the children should not be viewed as a very special circumstance and should be outweighed by the harm proposed to the Grade 2 listed building.

Our work:
1. We helped the client recognise that it was politicians, not council officers, who made the decision on this application; and our lobbying and intelligence efforts concentrated on giving councillors the confidence to overturn their officers’ strong recommendation to refuse. We reminded them that, if they failed to take this opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the school, they would be blamed by parents. Given it was a relatively small application, they would also not be able to fall back on a decision by a higher authority such as the GLA or DCLG.

2. We rehearsed champions to speak at the committee. We organised two different champions – one, a parent, who was able to speak about the emotional and community benefits of the scheme; and the other, a Kisharon director, who we focussed on speaking to committee about planning reasons.

3. We coordinated, with Kisharon, a strong showing of support from local parents and children who were current, former, and future Kisharon pupils. We corralled this group, ensured they respected the process of committee, and filled the public gallery with supporters who sat in Kisharon t-shirts with supportive posters.

4. We drew the attention of councillors to the letters of support from local people, the local MP, the local GLA, the Chief Rabbi, Sir Robert Winston, and the adjacent neighbour to the site.

5. Our intelligence work ensured that we knew which members were sitting on committee on the night, what they were likely to think, and how best to encourage them to support the scheme against the strong officer recommendation.

The vote came down to the wire – two councillors voted with their officers and one further councillor abstained. However, the chair of the committee had been sufficiently encouraged by our champions and supporters in the public gallery that she encouraged a further three members (two of which were in an opposition party) to vote with her to ignore and overturn their officers recommendation.

The application was approved and Kisharon gained the vital planning consent they needed to be able to begin, in earnest, the process of moving the school from the now unsuitable Golders Green site to their new site of Montfort House.

Richard Patient, managing director of Thorncliffe, said

“It was really rewarding working for Kisharon, particularly as we were able to help them overturn what was clearly a difficult decision from the officers in Barnet.   The school caters for children with learning difficulties, and the school’s places are in high demand and by expanding, they can help more young people progress, achieve independence, enjoy life and to be included in the communities in which we live, through meaningful vocation, and a fulfilling social life.”

“We’re also delighted to be recognised by our peers for our work, and we’re really pleased that we’ve been nominated for this Planning Campaign of the Year award”.