Harpenden Free School bid could be at risk

Site of the proposed Harpenden Free School

Site of the proposed Harpenden Free School - Credit: Photo by Matt Adams

CONCERNS have been raised over a bid to build a new school for 420 pupils in the heart of Harpenden.

District council officers flagged up a lack of play areas, on-site parking or a drop and drive area as stumbling blocks to turning an old Victorian school building, previously used by Oaklands College and which until recently housed Harpenden’s library, into spacious classrooms located on the corner of Vaughan and Victoria Roads.

St Albans district council (SADC) plans north committee last Monday postponed a decision upon an application to build Harpenden Free School on the conservation area site.

Councillors were to have considered two applications – one to demolish the youth club, workshop, garage and extension to the existing school building, and the second to construct a two-to-three storey extension and the refurbishment of that building.

Both the library and youth club vacated the site in April this year to move to premises elsewhere in the town centre.

The application site contains the Harpenden Board School building, locally listed and built during Victorian times in 1897.

The Harpenden Free School, which submitted the application to SADC, is currently operating from temporary accommodation at the 14th-Century Tithe Barn at Harpendenbury Farm in Redbourn.

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Harpenden town council has recommended the district council refuse the application because of “grossly insufficient on-site parking” and overdevelopment of the site.

Residents have also objected, saying it would have a serious impact upon traffic and parking and that it would be noisy during playtime as well as at the start and end of the school day.

One resident said that while the school had asserted in the plan that parents would park at the Bowers Way and other nearby public car parks, “the reality is that they will not”.

Council planning officers had recommended the plan be refused because of traffic and parking problems, the density and scale of the development and negative visual impact.

However a last-minute report on those problems resulted in the committee deciding to defer a decision, possibly until its June 24 meeting.

Committee member Cllr Teresa Heritage said that her main concern was that with there being little useable outside play space, the school intended to take pupils to Rothamsted Park for field play.

She said: “The junction of Vaughan Road/Victoria Road is a difficult junction at the best of times and there are no safe crossing points. The travel plan doesn’t cover how the children will get to the park safely.”

Councillors echoed her views, saying they would like to see additional safety measures within the application.

The committee asked officers for a further report on car parking and how children will access Rothamsted safely.

Head teacher of Harpenden Free School, John Gibson, said that the school had been “greatly encouraged” by the council’s support and that it was keen to make its vision a reality “to the benefit of the Harpenden community”.