‘Six acres in plastic would be an insensitive alteration’

Anke Boehme, local architect and parent, argues against the move to install artificial grass at Highgate School

The picture above shows the beautiful playing field of Highgate School on Hampstead Lane – which the school wants to modernise by replacing natural grass with a sea of plastic following Sport England’s (SE) guidance.

Whilst some might assume that playing fields haven’t got much biodiversity value due to the regular mowing requirements, the photo shows quite a few birds on the field. The guidance doesn’t mention the visual impact such a change would have and that this may not be an appropriate approach in all locations, such as conservation areas, like Far Field is. Artificial grass reflects rather than absorbs sunlight and hence the visual impact of six acres covered in shimmering plastic right opposite Kenwood House would be an insensitive alteration, damaging the historic character of the area.

Currently, Hampstead Lane is not a pleasant environment for pedestrians and cyclists, with a tall, dilapidated fence lining the road, mobile homes being parked alongside and a large amount of traffic causing noise and air pollution. Hampstead Lane is a daily route used by many pupils and parents going to schools in Hampstead and Highgate, but has long been neglected by Barnet Council and Haringey Council. The route needs positive improvement but an artificial landscape opposite one of London’s most beautiful parks is not
the right approach.

The provision of an active travel route and improved bus service to schools (particularly the 603 bus route) would be much more beneficial for pupils and local residents’ health, reducing traffic congestion, air and noise pollution. Reducing the width of Hampstead Lane by implementing a continuous cycle lane alongside the pedestrian walkway and shifting parking provision towards the middle would lessen speeding and make more efficient use of space.

The population of independent and faith schools in both Highgate and Hampstead totals 5,000. If 30% of these children are driven by car, then this creates 3,000 destinations, but adding return journeys each time could result in 12,000 trips. In order to tackle congestion, short trips should be reduced to allow public transport, commercial and emergency vehicles to reach destinations with ease. Pupil-friendly neighbourhoods must be prioritised.

If you think the sports field should keep its natural character and Hampstead Lane should be improved allowing residents, parents and pupils to reach Highgate by active travel, please sign our petition and contact Highgate councillors and your local MP.

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