Go-ahead given at last for new St Albans free school

ID shots for stories on the Green Belt and future expansion of St Albans, Harperbury, Harperbury hos

ID shots for stories on the Green Belt and future expansion of St Albans, Harperbury, Harperbury hospital, Harper lane, Meadow Avenue, Kingsley Green Hospital - Credit: Archant

A new free school has won its battle to secure a site in the grounds of a former hospital.

Schools Minister Lord Nash has signed off the capital budget to enable the Harperbury Free School to be built on land once occupied by the psychiatric hospital of the same name in Harper Lane on the borders of St Albans and Radlett.

By his action, Lord Nash has given the Harperbury Free School Trust the go ahead to submit planning applications for the new secondary school.

And while early indications are that the planning risk is not inconsiderable because the school would be a major development on Green Belt land, the trust has pledged to work closely with the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and St Albans council planners to resolve the issue.

The school site is set to be on the northern end of the former hospital site, close to Harper Lane.

The new Kingsley Green Hospital has recently opened at the far end of the site and a sizeable future housing development will be built on part of the 230 acres site over the next few years.

The initial intake of up to 120 students will begin next September even though the school buildings will not be completed in time.

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The governors are hopeful of securing the use of an existing building within the catchment area on a temporary basis from September 2015.

The aim is to locate a temporary building which could house students comfortably for up to three years while planning permission is secured for the permanent site.

There was disappointment earlier this year when the planned opening in September had to be postponed because the Department for Education failed to secure a site for it.

Chair of Governors Sara L’efquihi said this week: “It has taken a long time to get to this point but we are delighted that we have finally managed to secure what was always our preferred site for the school.

“We know that securing planning permission may not be easy but this feels like a significant step in the right direction to provide our community with the school it so badly needs and I can only thank those within the various government departments who have worked so hard to make it happen.”

St Albans MP Anne Main added her congratulations to the trust for securing the site.

She said: “This is fantastic news. I know how hard the team’s been working to get to this point.

‘We need more school places in St Albans and I’m pleased that the parents who have kept faith with the project will now have the opportunity to access an exciting new school.

“I was as disappointed as anyone when the project stalled earlier in the year but securing the preferred site was an important step towards this goal.”

She added: “I know there are planning hurdles to be overcome but I hope the need for this school is recognised by the council.”