New secondary school for Harpenden given the go-ahead by High Court

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

An attempt to quash plans for a new secondary school in Harpenden has been rejected at the High Court.

Tony Smith.

Tony Smith. - Credit: Archant

David Cairns, chairman of campaign group Right School Right Place (RSRP), has argued that Katherine Warington School, which is set to open in September next year, should not be built on Green Belt land off Lower Luton Road.

The group believes that while the district needs a new school, the development would negatively impact the Green Belt and cause ‘urban sprawl’ between Harpenden and Wheathampstead.

However in High Court on Thursday, August 2 Mrs Justice Lang allowed Herts county council to go ahead with its plans to develop the 17.2 hectare site, which allows for school buildings, access roads, parking, playing fields and tennis courts.

The council decided that the plan was not governed by Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations, as it was unlikely to have significant effects on the environment.

Justice Lang said: “When considering the effect of the development on the openness and purposes of the Green Belt, the council gave appropriate and sufficient consideration to the relevant criteria and made a legitimate exercise of judgement.

“I do not consider that there would be any purpose in quashing the grant of planning permission in order that the EIA process could be properly followed. It would merely result in further delay in constructing the new school.”

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Despite this, the judge conceded that the effects of the plans on archaeological remains found on the site were probably overlooked by the investigation.

While the council deemed the area to not be of archaeological importance, an unenclosed Saxon cemetery, an Iron Age enclosure and Neolithic finds have been identified on the site. However this was not deemed enough to take away planning permission, as there is no planned construction near the remains and the council would have imposed conditions regardless to ensure the remains are protected.

An RSRP statement said: “David Cairns, RSRP and many thousands of residents are understandably deeply disappointed in the result, but are awaiting the full ruling in order to assess implications contained within the detail.

“The initial understanding of the Hand Down judgement is that the court has found failings on the part of the council, yet has indicated that it is prepared to allow the planning permission to stand despite these acknowledged failings.

“Herts county council has previously said that they can’t wait to get bulldozers on the site. However the ruling, in respect of implications for treatment of the potential archaeology on site, at least offers some hope that the council will honour and respect the important history present in as yet unknown locations across the site.

“Perhaps we can hope that the archaeology alone may prove pivotal in finally forcing the council to build elsewhere.”

The group has also stated that in going ahead with the proposals the council is overriding the needs of the community and destroying Harpenden’s local identity.

Harpenden Parents Group, however, has welcomed the result after growing fears among parents that the school would not open in time for their children to attend.

Chairman Ben Bardsley said: “I think parents are extremely pleased with the outcome because this hopefully will allow the school, the construction company and the trust to get on and build the school so it can open in 2019.

“There have been many, many parents who have been extremely concerned that it was at risk of not opening in time. There are no contingency places for Harpenden children in St Albans schools, and the worst deficit is actually 2019 in terms of the number of places versus the number of children.

“This is a step forward to the school being built so we hope the opponents respect the decision in court and let the school be built, and take away the anxiety from parents and children.

“The planning permission has been unanimously approved by the planning committee and it’s been supported by our MP and a massive number of people in the local community.

“People really need the school to go ahead as soon as possible.”

Katherine Warington School, which will be headed by Tony Smith, the current deputy head at Roundwood Park, was due to open in September this year but was deferred after the Department for Education feared the site would not be ready in time.