Michael Gove won’t intervene over Radlett free school decision

Michael Gove MP

Michael Gove MP - Credit: Archant

Education secretary Michael Gove has refused to overrule a minister’s controversial decision to postpone the opening of a new free school on St Albans’ outskirts.

There was a backlash against schools minister Lord Nash when he suddenly decided to defer the opening of Harperbury Free School in Radlett by a year until September 2015.

His recent announcement infuriated parents and upset children in London Colney, Bricket Wood, Shenley and Radlett, who had been excited about starting this September.

And it was despite Mr Gove giving the go-ahead for the school, proposed to be established within the grounds of the former Harperbury Hospital off Harper Lane, Radlett.

Mr Gove has written to both St Albans MP Anne Main and Hertsmere MP James Clappison saying that “unfortunately” Harperbury would not open this year.

He added: “I appreciate that this must be disappointing news.”

He said the Department for Education was still looking at the financial feasibility of the hospital site, “and the wider cost implications it presents”.

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The department would also look at possible alternative sites “should the hospital prove to be unaffordable”.

Mr Gove’s response has been criticised by Mrs Main who said it was “disgraceful” that plans for the new school – years in the making – were in limbo despite the hospital site being public land owned by the NHS.

In a letter to the Education Secretary Mrs Main said she was “deeply disappointed” that Mr Gove would not meet the school’s representatives until after the feasibility study was complete.

She told him: “In an area such as mine, where land is expensive and highly contested, the demand from a rapidly expanding London makes housing development much more lucrative than building a school.

“Fiduciary duties of councils seek to maximise the return to the taxpayer, but in this case my constituents believe it strips them of one of their most basic of needs – education.”

Chairman of the governors Clive Glover said: “Of course we are disappointed and hope Mr Gove and his officials realise how they have let down literally hundreds of local families.

“We are now going to put all our efforts into working closely with the education funding agency to ensure we secure a site for our school well in time for next year.”

He admitted that while the hospital was the preferred site, “we may have to look for alternatives if that turns out to be too expensive”.