Green light is given to new Harpenden secondary school

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Notebook with grade - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Prime Minister David Cameron has announced the go-ahead for a proposed new secondary school in Harpenden – one of 49 new free schools to be created across the country.

But, in a list of conditions accompanying that approval, Herts county council must now agree to buy a site for a new school.

The PM’s announcement on Monday has been heralded by local consortium, the Harpenden Secondary Education Trust (HSET), which submitted a bid to the government to establish a free school to serve the town and surrounding areas, with the support of the council.

The trust comprises members from Roundwood Park, St George’s and Sir John Lawes Schools, Rothamsted Research and the University of Hertfordshire.

A press release from the Department for Education about the go-ahead said: “Harpenden parents’ demand for another traditional high-calibre academic institution has been answered by the head teachers of three local outstanding secondary schools.

“Harpenden Secondary Free School will respond to the need for more school places by creating 1,150 places in the secondary school alongside a 250-place sixth form.”

Philip Waters, HSET chairman, described the PM’s endorsement of the school project as an important step forward.

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But he added a word of caution, saying that the Department for Education had set conditions alongside the initial approval which must be met before final agreement can be reached.

This includes the proviso that the council agrees to fund the acquisition of the site in its entirety, and lead on negotiations for its purchase.

Following advice from consultants, the council has recently again signalled its preference for a cattle farm north of Lower Luton Road in Batford as an ideal site for the proposed school.

But this has proved controversial in Harpenden, where campaigners are fighting expansion onto the Green Belt fields separating the town from neighbouring Wheathampstead.

The Education Funding Agency (EFA), and the education department are expected to announce shortly whether the bid can progress to the next stage in the process, including submission of a planning application.

A spokeswoman for campaign group Right School Right Place (RSRP), which opposes the Batford site, said members were pleased that after “years of delays by the council” the government had “recognised the potential plight of pupils from Harpenden secondary school planning area over the next few years.

“However in the absence of any planning application or statement from the EFA regarding a site, the location of the school remains undecided.”