Controversial Harpenden secondary school plan is approved

Farmland bordering Lower Luton Road in Batford on which Herts county council wants to build Katherin

Farmland bordering Lower Luton Road in Batford on which Herts county council wants to build Katherine Warington School. - Credit: Archant

The green light has finally been given to Harpenden’s divisive new secondary school, with added measures to ensure children’s safety.

Tony Smith will be the headteacher of Katherine Warington School.

Tony Smith will be the headteacher of Katherine Warington School. - Credit: Archant

A meeting of Herts county council’s development control committee agreed on Monday that Katherine Warington School (KWS), should be built on farm fields east of Common Lane, off Lower Luton Road at Batford.

Named after a pioneering local botanist, the six form of entry KWS is due to open in September with Tony Smith, the current deputy head at Roundwood Park, as headteacher.

He said: “Katherine Warington School will not only deliver an academic education of the highest standard but an environment in which children can acquire the skills ready to thrive in a changing world.”

Set to be the fourth secondary school in the town with an eventual capacity for 1,150 pupils, the proposal includes plans for playing fields, tennis courts and a multi-use games area, with the first phase of construction to begin next month.

Cllr Annie Brewster, representing Wheathampstead, argued that the Lower Luton Road was not a safe walking route, and as a consequence, all of the village’s children attending KWS will receive free bus transport to and from the school.

She explained: “As part of the planning application, I urged county officers to join me to review the ridiculous classification that the Lower Luton Road was a safe route for children to walk to school from Wheathampstead to Harpenden.

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“The new comprehensive assessment concurs with my concern about dangerous pinch points, the consequence of which, means all village children will receive free bus transport to and from the new school, dramatically reducing the need for car use.”

Ben Bardsley, chair of Harpenden Parents Group, which has supported the location from the outset, said: “This is great news for the children and families in and around Harpenden. Secondary school places are desperately needed for this year’s September intake, the alternative is children being separated from their friends and bussed to schools across the county.

“There remains considerable work to do before any construction can commence, including a referral to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government because the land is classed as Green Belt.”

HCC executive member for education Terry Douris said: “We are very pleased that the planning application for this much-needed school has been approved. We now await the outcome of the Secretary of State’s decision and look forward to the new school opening its doors to Harpenden families. I would like to thank both the Harpenden Secondary Education Trust and the community for their support with the project and am sure this school will be a great success.”

County councillor for Harpenden South West, Cllr Teresa Heritage, said: “It has taken nearly five years to get this decision and I am sure that families in Harpenden and the surrounding villages will feel relieved that the annual angst of finding a school place will be removed. I know that families are excited with the prospect of starting at the new school in September.”

But the news was not welcomed by all parties present at the meeting. Campaign group Right School Right Place, which believes the Batford site is not suitable for HWS, said the decision was hurried through.

An extensive statement accused HCC of failing local residents, adding: “The panel appeared to overlook both the flawed background and plan in their rush to approve, including a disappointing level of challenge to a location widely recognised as totally inappropriate.

“We look forward to the Secretary of State exercising his right to call-in this application because this proposal requires the completely independent review that this would provide.

“Combining HCC’s resounding lack of engagement and understanding of just how unsuitable this site is with a not unexpected decision from the panel it is safe to say that opposition will continue and next steps are in progress.”