A new action group has launched a petition to try and prevent the closure of a much-loved day nursery in St Albans.

Save Acorns Nursery Campaign, which represents parents, staff, teachers and students, is petitioning the Oaklands College Corporation to overturn the decision to close the nursery in the week of September 6.

They say the college has no intention of running nursery facilities despite having special planning permission for the development of the Smallford campus, which actually included constructing a new nursery as part of the Section 106 agreement.

They are calling for the Oaklands senior leadership team to be held to account for the unacceptable six week period of notice given to parents, carers and dedicated members of staff, to find alternative premises, new childcare places and jobs, over the summer holiday period and during a national pandemic.

Campaigners highlight how the college will be failing to provide childcare provision for staff and students - in particular for vulnerable families - or a nursery site for the apprenticeship courses in childcare and early years teaching.

They want to know what is happening to the new £1.1m nursery building, for which specific funding had already been secured through the sale of Green Belt land, for which planning permission had already been granted under ‘very special circumstances’ in 2017.

They are demanding a three-month stay of execution to Manor House and the current consultation, a full review of options for existing and new nursery facilities, and their management, in partnership with HCC and alternative operators, and that the college explores a long-lease option with an alternative operator, who can fund and operate a new nursery building on the Smallford campus.

They also want answers as to why a new nursery building has not been delivered as part of the approved 2017 college masterplan, and how the 1.1m specifically allocated for a new nursery has been spent.

Oaklands College has blamed the decision on the withdrawal of the SADC Local Plan last year, as a spokesperson explained: "The college subsequently reviewed the estate plan in June/July 2021 and reviewed various options for the continuation of the nursery in light of the now imminent repairs needed and their associated cost and concluded, reluctantly, that the proposal to close should be made as the other options were cost prohibitive."

But Cllr Jamie Day, chair of the council planning referrals committee, said: "To blame the Local Plan is very disingenuous when the college circumvented the Local Plan process a while back through winning permission for the Oaklands Grange development on Green Belt through an appeal.

"As you reported, the planning officers are looking into possible breaches of the S106 agreement. However, Acorns is a private company and there is no statutory requirement for nursery education, so the decision whether to run the nursery is a commercial one for the college. If it decides its resources are better put into further education, that is their call.

"But it does seem to have been very ineptly handled, both from its own staff and nursery customers’ point of view, and is appalling PR for the college."

County councillor John Hale added: “When Oaklands College received planning permission for the redevelopment of their site they included in those plans a new nursery. The subsequent decision not to proceed with the new building and in addition to close the existing nursery is a breach of trust with the community that surrounds them.

"I have written to the college seeking explanations for their actions. The communications parents have received to date have been brief and lacking in useful information. The college should reconsider their decision to close the nursery, but if they are determined to do so the could and should be doing more to support their employees and the parents.

“The current actions of the college have damaged their reputation and will impact on how residents respond to future projects the college wishes to pursue.”

To sign the petition visit https://bit.ly/3AmGB1V