St Albans MP reveals: 'Oaklands College has no intention of continuing to provide nursery services'

The much-loved Acorns Day Nursery on the Oaklands College site.

The much-loved Acorns Day Nursery on the Oaklands College site. - Credit: Supplied

Oaklands College's decision to close its onsite nursery appears to be cast in stone, despite claims there would be a six-week consultation period.

The senior team at the college have blamed the decision to shut Acorns Day Nursery on the lack of a St Albans Local Plan, the planning blueprint for future development in the district.

They insisted "imminent repairs" were needed to the existing premises in Manor House, and all other options were cost prohibitive.

St Albans MP Daisy Cooper has been pressing Oaklands to delay the closure of the nursery to allow parents more time to find new care providers for their children, but this has been rejected, as has any bid to provide alternative accommodation elsewhere.

She said: "I had also suggested to Oaklands that local councillors and I may be able to suggest a possible off-site premises for Acorns Nursery after Oaklands had made clear that none of their on-site buildings were a suitable alternative to the Manor House building. I had suggested they send a list of requirements to help us scope out potential venues in the community.

"The response I have received to this has been a real let down, since it now appears they have no intention of continuing to provide nursery services in future even if we could find an alternative suitable venue.

"Cllr John Hale has been making enquiries with Herts county council, who have been similarly disappointed by this decision since they could have provided options – including access to Covid Recovery Funding or finding a new provider – had they been approached by Oaklands.

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"As many parents have said themselves, Oaklands do not seem to have fully considered how the closure of Acorns Nursery will impact the community, nor did they do enough to properly communicate their intentions in advance to mitigate the affect on parents and children who currently attend."

A statement from Oaklands College released to parents and this newspaper failed to answer many of the questions we had posed over the past week, when both the principal and marketing manager were on annual leave.

It read: "There have been various iterations since the planning application, some of which were driven by the significant increase in construction costs since the original plans were drawn up back in 2013.

"In 2019 the Local Plan identified some of the college site as being potentially part of the Local Plan and that this Local Plan would also include a nursery, hence the decision to retain the nursery in its current building.

"In November of 2020 the Local Plan was then withdrawn. This was clearly an unforeseen circumstance which no one could have predicted.

"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 (including alternative locations on the campus, both in existing as well as in new/modular accommodation, as well as continuing with the current building until such time that the, or a revised, Local Plan emerged) and concluded, reluctantly, that the proposal to close should be made as the other options were cost prohibitive.

"This was not an easy decision to make and in putting forward the proposal we absolutely recognise the concern this will cause for parents and, of course, for our staff.

"We have been meeting with the staff concerned and will continue to do so throughout August. We completely understand that this is a very difficult time for all concerned and we are doing what we can to support staff, and also parents."

Unanswered questions:

  • When the new nursery was dropped from Phase 2, money was set aside to bring Manor House up to scratch. That was long before the Local Plan was withdrawn, and before Covid and any impact on enrolment, so why didn’t it happen?
  • What are the imminent repairs needed to bring Manor House up to required standards, and does Oaklands have a costing for this?
  • Why did the college wait between November 2020 when the Local Plan was withdrawn and June/July 2021 to decide to consult on closure? What other options were investigated during this period?
  • SADC is now investigating Oaklands for breaching the assurances made to achieve planning permission - does the college believe it has contravened the terms of its Section 106?
  • Why is the college still promoting its Childcare and Early Years course in conjunction with Acorns?