Mixed reaction of St Albans schools to homes strategy
THE prospect of hundreds of houses being built at or near schools in St Albans has provoked a mixed reaction from local heads.
One headteacher admitted she was “frustrated” with conflicting messages about future development in the district while another was bemused as they had no plans to build homes on playing fields.
St Albans District Council is finalising a draft consultation document setting out future housing and other development sites.
Its draft core strategy which will feed into its planning blueprint, the Local Development Framework (LDF), shortlists nine areas, including education sites, throughout the district to cater for future housing needs, potentially paving the way for 4,250 homes homes to be built over the next 17 years.
Earmarked areas include land at or near St Albans Girls’ School, Oaklands College, Beaumont School and Nicholas Breakspear School, to help boost education and training facilities.
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That is despite councillors recently rejecting a planning application from Beaumont School, scotching its request to be allowed to improve facilities and students’ access. As a result, the secondary school has been forced to approach the Secretary of State to consider its revised planning application for homes to be built on part of existing playing fields.
The houses were proposed as enabling development to help finance the building of a sports hall and increase classroom accommodation.
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Beaumont head, Elizabeth Hitch, said: “We find it hard to reconcile the conflicting messages from the district council and to understand their position.
“They have identified nine sites for construction to help to provide the best educational facilities for our young people, and yet only two weeks ago they rejected the Beaumont plans for one of those nine sites.
“I am not surprised to see the Beaumont School playing fields included on the [draft] Core Strategy as this would lead to the major sports, health and safety improvements that we have been after for over ten years, but I am very frustrated that this is published only two weeks after turning down our application.”
Nicholas Breakspear head, Phil Jakszta, was surprised to see his school mentioned in the draft housing framework, as building homes at the site was “not on our radar at all”.
Like Beaumont, its planning application to improve facilties was recently rejected. Mr Jakszta said Nicholas Breakspear had “no plans to release land” for housing because the school was focused on seeing its project to build a floodlit all-weather pitch for cricket, rugby, football and dance, and a new changing room block come to fruition.
He said: “Our priority is to work towards getting permission for our all-weather site. In terms of any aspirations to housing on this site, there is no intention.”
Mr Jakszta said he thought the school’s inclusion in the strategy was due to “long past aspirations, before my time [as headteacher].”
Cllr Chris Brazier, portfolio holder for planning, confirmed that the school was mooted for future residential development because of a historic request and “no one has asked us to take it out.”
But the oversight was likely to be rectified at a planning meeting last night, before the draft of council’s proposed list of preferred development sites is finalised at a cabinet meeting on November 25.
The headteacher of St Albans Girls’ School (STAGS), Margaret Chapman, welcomed the potential provision for additional facilities to be built at the school should plans to build homes on land east of Harpenden Road, near Woollams playing fields, go ahead.
Hunston Properties wants to build about 125 homes on Green Belt land and had promised new sports facilities for STAGS in the scheme but Mrs Chapman said that a new sixth form centre would be the priority.
Stressing that the school had no connection to either the developers or the proposed development, she said STAGS would welcome a new sixth form centre which would create a new common room, ICT area, library and additional classrooms.
She added: “But it isn’t just sixth formers who will benefit; many hundreds of local residents will benefit directly from the provision of this community project too. That’s because we’ll have more classrooms to host adult literacy and ICT classes which we run in partnership with the Minority Ethnic Curriculum Support Service.”
Oaklands College is looking to sell off land at the Sandpit Lane end of its Smallford campus for up to 300 new homes to be built there.
Interim principal Zoe Hancock said: “We are continually working to improve the college and in a climate where funding is being reduced, this development will offer a way to support investment in the college, its learners and our community facilities.”
Cllr Brazier admitted it was “very difficult” for schools to make improvements following government cuts in education funding and added: “So where we can see an education benefit we will look at allowing schools to develop their own property, in their own curtilage.”