New Harpenden secondary school in 11th hour judicial review

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

Harpenden’s new secondary school continues to face an uncertain future after opponents applied for a judicial review to stop the school from opening.

Tony Smith.

Tony Smith. - Credit: Archant

Katherine Warington School was originally due to open in September this year, with Tony Smith, the current deputy head at Roundwood Park, as headteacher.

However despite being granted final planning approval by the Secretary of State on March 15, just a week later the Department for Education announced that the opening would be deferred until September 2019.

The campaign group Right School, Right Place (RSRP) has always maintained that the proposed site for the new school, farmland on Lower Luton Road in Batford, is unsuitable for development and that a new school is not needed for Harpenden.

RSRP has now applied for the judicial review as they feel their representations against the school to Herts county council were not adequately considered.

An RSRP statement said: “It had been hoped that the Secretary of State for housing, communities and local government would have exercised his right to ‘call in’ the application.

“A call in would have resulted in a planning inquiry and brought the necessary independence to the process. However, despite numerous representations from many sources the Secretary of State chose not to exercise this discretionary right.

Most Read

“The decision to apply was not taken lightly. RSRP has always maintained a key point is where a school should be located and continues to hold the view that it should be located where it best addresses the local need in the area.”

RSRP maintains that there is an over-capacity of secondary school places available in Harpenden town, but Katherine Warington would fail to serve potential pupils in Wheathampstead, Kimpton and the Waldens, who would be better served by Sir John Lawes School extending its catchment area.

Harpenden Parents Group, however, argue that the new school is urgently needed. Chairman Ben Bardsley said: “This represents an attempt by the opponents of the school to block the build going ahead, despite its unanimous approval by Herts county council’s planning committee and the Secretary of State.

“There is a clear urgent need for Harpenden secondary school places as demonstrated by the number of children being processed through ‘continuing interest’ for a local school place for September 2018.

“Harpenden Parents Group is continuing to support local families who are still awaiting news of a Harpenden school place for this September. We also urge parents and carers of all current Year 5 children to follow this case very closely.”

The group believes that RSRP deliberately waited until the last possible day, six weeks after the Secretary of State’s approval, to make the application, in a further effort to delay the process.

Wheathampstead resident Louisa Thompson described the decision to apply for the judicial review on the last possible day as “an obvious delaying tactic”. She said: “This is going to cause massive upset to families whose children are going to secondary school in the next few years (of which we are included).

“The uncertainty about whether the school is going to be built in time for the 2019 bulge year will lead to a lot of people deciding to move rather than wait around.

“If the school isn’t built for 2019 then it will mean lots of children going on buses out of the area to get to school. There will be no places in Sandringham for these children. St Albans will also have a shortage of places.”

Tony Smith, future headteacher at Katherine Warington, said: “We have been informed by HCC that they have received court papers from Downs Solicitors, representing Right School Right Place, confirming that they have applied for permission to judicially review the county council’s planning decision dated 15 March 2018.

“The application for permission was made on Thursday 26 April 2018, being the last day of the 6 week judicial review period.

“At this stage, it is our understanding that this will not interrupt the schedule of work currently underway to open the school for September 2019.”

The planned opening in September this year was delayed as the school would have had to open in temporary accommodation on the permanent school site, which Harpenden Secondary Education Trust agreed would offer a sub-optimal experience for new pupils.