Councillors deny St Albans primary school is being rushed through

CLAIMS that a new primary school for the city centre is being rushed through have been countered by two councillors representing central St Albans.

Although they are also Lib Dems, Cllrs Chris White and Jack Pia have countered concerns voiced by Cllrs Rod Perks and Melvyn Teare last week that in the rush to purchase the University of Herts faculty of law in Hatfield Road, St Albans, for a new primary school, some of the most pressing issues have been overlooked.

Cllrs Perks and Teare were concerned about the lack of debate over the purchase of the building and that issues around safety, traffic and the site itself had been ignored.

But Cllrs White and Pia have unreservedly welcomed the new two-form entry school which they say could be open as early as September.

Cllr Pia said: “We have been campaigning for a new school for some years and so I am delighted that we have now got to this stage.”

And Cllr White, whose county council division takes in St Peter’s and Clarence wards, added: “This is good news. There are some issues in relation to traffic to sort out but it means that fewer parents will have the misery of being assigned a school miles from where they live.”

The two men maintained that city centre schools were now seeing the vast majority of children walking to school – in some cases as many as 90 per cent of pupils arriving on foot.

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And Cllr White added: “There is no issue as to whether the new school might need subsequently to expand: the county council is also looking at other sites for further new schools. I sincerely hope that the council will seriously consider placing a further school on (for instance) the old fire station site on Harpenden Road.”

He said he had been told by county council officers that they had undertaken a “significant amount of work” to ensure the former law faculty was suitable to accommodate a two form of entry primary school and the decision had not been made in haste.

He also said that while the new primary would be a free school or an academy in line with Coalition government policy, the county council was working with a group co-ordinated by the ex-head of an outstanding primary school in St Albans to open a free school there.

It would have the same admission rules as other community schools in Herts.

Cllr White maintained that officers were aware of the busy nature of the city centre and that the new school would require, “a robust transport strategy and travel plan.” That could include breakfast and after-school clubs, staggered start and finish, walking buses and use of local facilities to encourage parental drop-off away from the school site.

All the measures would be intended to reduce the impact of the school on the capacity of the local road network and a dedicated travel co-ordinator would oversee the day-to-day implementation of the travel plan.