Harpenden parents ‘anxious’ after new secondary school opening deferred

Farmland bordering Lower Luton Road on which Herts county council is keen to build a new school

Farmland bordering Lower Luton Road on which Herts county council is keen to build a new school - Credit: Archant

Parents in Harpenden have been left disappointed and ‘anxious’ after it was revealed that a new secondary school promised for the town will now not open until 2018 – one year later than planned.

Harpenden Secondary Education Trust announced last Friday (12) that it was with “deep regret” it had asked the Department for Education to defer the opening of Harpenden Secondary Free School because “some aspects of the project have taken longer than anticipated”.

The news comes just one month after Herts county council (HCC) exchanged contracts with the owners of farmland on the corner of Lower Luton Road and Common Lane on which the new school is proposed to be built.

In January, the authority said it was entering detailed discussions with the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and the trust on the next steps needed to have the school built, including submitting a planning application.

Tenant farmer Phil Holt was given notice to leave Batford Farm, the long-running centre of his pedigree cattle-raising business, by March 2017, as it was hoped that temporary classrooms would be available on the 42.8 acre site by September next year.

But on Friday, the trust admitted partners in the project “have wrestled with the timeline in order to meet the 2017 date.

“Having taken the advice of the EFA, the trust reluctantly accepts this is no longer viable.”

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Reacting to the announcement, Harpenden Parents Group chairman Ben Bardsley said: “We are very disappointed the opening has been put back a year. I think the county council has some questions to answer, including the consequences – what is going to happen to the 100-plus children intending to go there in 2017?

“What specific plans does the council have for school places for them? There is a lot of anxiety.”

Ben added: “I’m not criticising the trust, but the county council has taken too long to do the deal to acquire the site.”

A spokesman for Right School Right Place, a group opposing the development of a new school at the Batford Green Belt site, said: “This news will come as no surprise to many.”

He said that Harpenden MP Peter Lilley had hinted at the likely deferral of the opening date during hustings in the town prior to last year’s General Election.

The spokesman added: “Even the casual viewer would have questioned recent statements about a 2017 opening, given the lack of land, lack of planning permission, and HCC’s secondary school applications process timescales.”

Trust chairman Philip Waters said: “While we regret very much the unavoidable delay to the planned opening date, the overwhelming priority of the trust remains to ensure the school opens on its permanent site in order to serve the long term needs of Harpenden and its surrounding community.”

The request for deferral has yet to be approved by Schools Minister Nick Gibb.

The council’s cabinet member for education, Cllr David Williams, said while it would be a ‘challenge’ finding places for those pupils expecting to start at the new school next year they would be accommodated, mainly at schools in St Albans.

• The deferral will be discussed at an information and Q&A evening for parents on Monday (22) at Roundwood Park School.