‘It feels like Christmas has come early’ as new school given green light

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 has been granted full planning permission following an attempt to quash its development at the High Court.

Tony Smith.

Tony Smith. - Credit: Archant

Katherine Warington School is set to open in September next year, but campaign group Right School Right Place (RSRP) has argued that the school should not be built on Green Belt land off Lower Luton Road.

In August, the High Court allowed Herts county council to continue developing the 17.2 hectare site, which will include school buildings, access roads, parking, playing fields and tennis courts.

However RSRP, who believe that a new school would negatively impact the Green Belt and cause ‘urban sprawl’ between Harpenden and Wheathampstead, attempted to challenge the High Court’s decision but were refused permission by the Court of Appeal.

Ben Bardsley, chairman of Harpenden Parents’ Group, who have long campaigned for a new school in Harpenden, said: “It’s fantastic news for parents and children and the whole community. There were a lot of anxious parents and I’m hoping this means the contractors and the Trust can go ahead and establish the school for a 2019 opening.

Left to right: Philip Waters, chair of the Harpenden Secondary School Trust, Andrew Warington Wickha

Left to right: Philip Waters, chair of the Harpenden Secondary School Trust, Andrew Warington Wickham, great nephew of Katherine Warington, Jenny Wickham, great niece of Katherine Warington, Elizabeth Gilardo, pupil from St Dominic Catholic Primary School. - Credit: Archant

“Obviously the next stage is we would like to hear from the Trust and the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) to ensure that all the necessary funding is in place.

“We want to understand that they can deliver all the requirements and the planning permission for the 2019 opening which is what everyone desperately wants.

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“It’s so long overdue and I think it has such great potential for Harpenden.”

Philip Waters, chair of the Harpenden Secondary School Trust, said: “This is wonderful news and a great relief that we will after all be able to open in September 2019 and meet the demand of Harpenden families in a peak year for secondary places. The wider community will be pleased that this matter is now resolved.”

Katherine Warington School will be headed by Tony Smith, the current deputy headteacher at Roundwood Park.

He said: “The legal process has run its true course. Every side of the issue has had their chance to comment and challenge.

“We can, for the sake of local children in Harpenden finally begin to build the school that is needed so much. Concerned parents will be incredibly relieved at this news.

“We are delighted, it feels like Christmas has come early this year.”

RSRP, however, has long maintained that the site is inappropriate for development. The group claimed that they made representations to the county council in 2014, identifying potential alternative sites.

A statement from the group said: “The extreme disappointment and disbelief in this decision is being felt and expressed across the wide area that includes Harpenden, neighbouring villages and beyond, and RSRP echoes that disappointment.

“With such a high proportion of the proposed school pupils needing to travel long distances, the road blight will be felt across a very wide area, not just Batford. This same week we see some Wheathampstead parents openly voicing their concerns about the potential safety of pupils on overcrowded school buses that will leave Wheathampstead more than an hour before school starts.

“How much better (in terms of safety, cost, time and family life) if the county council had focused on a sustainable solution centred around pupil need in Wheathampstead and Southdown?

It remains deeply disappointing that the Council has chosen to bulldoze through this expensive project when school rolls are falling and a school place surplus is already forecast.”

RSRP chairman David Cairns admitted defeat, saying: “The avenue of challenging the Planning Decision through the appropriate legal channels is effectively exhausted. I would like to thank those who have worked tirelessly to support our attempts to have the community’s voice heard in this matter.”

Terry Douris, the county council’s executive member for education, said: “We are pleased to learn of the outcome of the Judge’s decision not to grant the appeal, which I am sure will come as a great relief to many local parents.

“We will continue to support the Harpenden Secondary Education Trust and the DfE as they work towards a successful opening in September 2019.”