Hunt for alternative sites for new Harpenden secondary school

The proposed site for a new school off Lower Luton Road

The proposed site for a new school off Lower Luton Road - Credit: Archant

Brownfield sites in Harpenden are to be examined as possible locations for a new secondary school as the town faces a shortage of about 230 places within the next five years.

But with such a review drawing out the time taken to construct a new school, angry local campaigners are now asking whether it will be built at all.

Following controversy over its push for the compulsory acquisition of up to 15 hectares of farm land in the Green Belt, Herts county council (HCC) has agreed to engage a specialist planning consultant to review its proposal.

Last year the council angered one group of residents when it was revealed that it hoped to buy fields on the corner of Common Lane, off Lower Luton Road, to provide a development site for a new school with a capacity of six to eight forms of entry. That purchase has since been put on hold.

And at an education cabinet panel meeting on June 11, councillors said they would continue working on securing a suitable site for a new school.

A consultant will examine HCC’s efforts to date and identify places, including brownfield, upon which one could be built.

When it comes to submitting a scheme, the application will have to push for its acceptance under “very special circumstances” should HCC settle on paving the way for a Green Belt based school.

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Cabinet chairman Cllr Chris Hayward said the group championing the new school, the Harpenden Secondary Education Trust – representatives of Roundwood Park, St George’s and Sir John Lawes schools, Rothamsted Research and the University of Hertfordshire – were on target to submit an application for the new school to the Department for Education in autumn.

However he said the earliest a new school could open would be September 2017.

That has provoked an outcry from the Harpenden Parents Group, with chairman Ben Bardsley calling upon the authority to “cease procrastinating and proceed with the purchase and development of a site”.

The group presented a petition to the cabinet, signed by 1,500 people, in support of a new school.

Ben said: “Many parents are disillusioned and angry with HCC and there remains a great deal of doubt as to whether the council is capable of delivering any site at all.”

However the review has been applauded by another campaign group, Right School Right Place. Its chairman David Cairns said: “Proper and thorough evaluation is what is required for such a proposal.”