Oaklands College being investigated for breach of planning over nursery closure

Acorns Day Nursery at Oaklands College.

Acorns Day Nursery at Oaklands College. - Credit: Supplied

Oaklands College has broken promises made when it sought planning approval for redevelopment by not providing a nursery on its Smallford campus, it has been claimed.

In the wake of the shock announcement that the award-winning, Ofsted outstanding Acorns Day Nursery could close in a matter of weeks, damning accusations have been levelled at the college.

Most prominent is the allegation that Oaklands is failing to deliver on assurances made about providing a new nursery when it sought planning permission for redevelopment, which is now being investigated by the district council.

Tracy Harvey, head of planning at St Albans district council said: “The proposed closure of the nursery has been reported to us as a potential breach of planning controls. We are currently investigating this.”

Because the existing premises at Manor House was identified as needing major work to ensure its ability to function effectively in the future, the college included proposals for a replacement nursery in Phase 2 of its masterplan for redevelopment, and this received planning permission in 2017.

The construction cost was estimated at £1.1million in 2013, and the college provided evidence on appeal to the Secretary of State in 2015 as to how the scheme would be viable and delivered in manageable phases.

The college said: "The nursery would be relocated to the site of two of the existing residential houses which are planned to be demolished. The building is designed to be single storey which will enable easy access to outdoor space for all age groups, in line with best early years practice.

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"It would contain the full range of required accessible facilities for teaching, play, storage, food preparation, storage and sleeping spaces. The nursery would no longer be in the centre of the campus and so will enable the nursery to operate more effectively (drop off and collection) whilst retaining the benefits of proximity to the college and its facilities."

But this new nursery has never been materialised, and Oaklands has failed to provide any alternative option, leaving parents, staff and carers with nowhere to go if Acorns closes.

It is also still promoting its close links with Acorns on Facebook to attract new students to its Early Years and Childcare course.

Oaklands College is promoting its links with Acorns Day Nursery on Facebook.

Oaklands College is promoting its links with Acorns Day Nursery to attract students to its Early Years and Childcare courses - even though it plans to shut the nursery down. - Credit: Facebook

Parent Richard Northcroft said: "Keeping Manor House was not part of the approved planning application - retaining it has never been presented to the public as an option. Why has the college not prepared for this and planned in advance? I appreciate the college may have financial issues, but running down the clock is not an acceptable option.

"The economic sustainability argument makes little sense. The Oaklands Grange residential development north of the college will probably expand further, so more parents will require childcare nearby.

"It really does demonstrate a total lack of competence - there has been no transparent consultation process or forward planning since 2017.

"What has happened to the plans for the new nursery, and what contingency plans did Oaklands have in place to keep Acorns running if the new building could not be delivered?"

The Herts Ad has contacted Oaklands principal Andrew Slade, deputy principal Harpreet Nagra and marketing director David Adler for comment. We have yet to receive a response to our enquiries.

Tracey Harvey from SADC added: "The decision as to whether or not to take formal enforcement action in a case where we find there has been a breach of planning controls is discretionary and depends on the level of planning harm.

"This can be a complex area. Each case must be considered on its own merits. For example, among other matters, any action must be proportionate to the breach, and be in the public interest.” 

Parents and staff wishing to campaign against the closure of Acorns are asked to email mse.association@gmail.com