Both sides in Harpenden school row question lack of progress

Farmland bordering Lower Luton Road on which Herts county council is keen to build a new school

Farmland bordering Lower Luton Road on which Herts county council is keen to build a new school - Credit: Archant

Fears continue to be expressed about the shortage of secondary school places, and the proposed siting of a new free school on farmland in Harpenden.

Local Alderman Chris Oxley, a former St Albans mayor who lives in Wheathampstead, has had a flurry of emails from villagers over the contentious issue.

Parents in Wheathampstead have told Mr Oxley they are concerned “about problems likely to arise in the village in 2017 due to the shortage of acceptable secondary school places”.

Also, there is “substantial” opposition among villagers to the proposed building of a new school at a pedigree cattle-raising farm, on the corner of Common Lane and Lower Luton Road, in Batford.

But Harpenden Parents Group is equally concerned at what it describes as a lack of progress on the new school, given the “desperate situation for many local families who have found that there are not enough local school places for their children”.

Mr Oxley said villagers had told him of their concerns about the impact on traffic travelling along Lower Luton Road, “because it is so heavy already”.

He added: “You can’t cycle along it – it would be a death wish.”

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Residents outlining fears about potential pitfalls included a man who said: “Lower Luton Road is already extremely busy, and traffic will continue to increase due to the proposed new extensions at Luton Airport. This road is already a rat run between the airport and the motorway.”

He warned that older residents living at a nearby sheltered housing and private residential block would suffer from fumes and noise pollution.

A woman who lives in Sauncey Wood said: “A while ago I was trying to get to the airport and it took over half an hour to travel one mile from Folly Fields to the roundabout at the bottom of Lamer Lane.

“For parents who have to drop their children off at school and then get back to Wheathampstead for work or to look after younger children it will be an absolute nightmare.

“If children have to walk or cycle from Wheathampstead, it will be very dangerous. The footpath is very narrow along Lower Luton Road.”

Mr Oxley has shared residents’ concerns with Herts county councillor for Harpenden north east and cabinet member for education, David Williams.

While Mr Oxley “strongly supports the fact that there needs to be new school, ideally it should be in Wheathamptead – but then I’m biased.”

Cllr Williams said the council, along with the school’s proposer, the Harpenden Secondary School Trust, and the Education Funding Agency “are all committed to working towards the quickest possible route to provide a new school to serve the Harpenden school planning area.”

He said he understood Mr Oxley’s contention that a site in Wheathampstead or to the south of Harpenden would best serve local needs, but there were several factors against that possibility.

These included a “variable” number of primary school pupils in the village over the past four years, which “does not provide a sound basis for secondary demand projections going forward.

“Although the combined total of potential pupils in Wheathampstead and other villages to the north and east equates to around five forms of entry, this assumes that all parents/carers would indicate such a school as their preference. It is unlikely that this will be the case.

“A secondary school in Wheathampstead previously had to close due to fluctuating numbers.”

• Harpenden Parents Group has recently publicised its concerns about delays with the project, as the opening date of the proposed new school has now slipped to September 2017. Planning approval has yet to be sought, and other issues have yet to be ironed out, including the purchase of a site. A meeting is to be held in September to discuss such concerns. See its Facebook page for the latest information.

Recent stories on the free school controversy

County told it must buy land for new schoolHidden heritage beneath proposed school siteNew school on Harpenden’s Green Belt will cost up to £56 millionNew Harpenden secondary school likely to be built on Green Belt