Political row over Ariston Works site in St Albans

THE potential use of a former fire station site for a new St Albans primary school has led to a row between two political parties.

It follows a letter to the county council by five local Lib Dem councillors warning that with the identified need for additional school places in the city, regardless of the opening of a new school in Hatfield Road, it was the wrong time to sell the Ariston Works site in Harpenden Road.

But Labour group leader on the district council, Cllr Martin Leach, has hit out at the Lib Dems for what he describes as a “complete about-turn” on the use of the site for a primary school.

He said that the Lib Dems had voted with the Conservative group against Labour at a full council meeting earlier this year when his group called for the old fire station site to be used for a new school.

Only three of their 24 councillors had agreed with the idea, he went on, and others ridiculed it as “piffle”.

Cllr Leach went on: “What a difference a few months can make. We are delighted the Lib Dems have made this very public volte face and decided to back the idea, alas having voted against it once already.”

But Lib Dem group leader, Cllr Robert Donald, pointed out that the full council debate in question had been about the location of a new school in Hatfield Road and was not pitting one site against another.

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He went on: “We never said the Ariston site was one which should not be considered but it looked as though Hatfield Road was a done deal so there was little point in trying to stop that because it was going ahead.”

Cllr Donald said his group’s concern was that even with the new Hatfield Road school and Francis Bacon changing into an all-through school, there could still be a need for a third primary school.

They had written to the county council chief executive to point out that even if the Ariston site was not suitable for a school, it could be used as a land swap for another site which was.

They also wanted to safeguard the future of the Pioneer Youth Club and St Albans Judo Club.

He added: “The Ariston site is not an alternative because Hatfield Road is going to happen.”