Proposed Harpenden school site is ‘critical in buffering neighbouring communities’

Traffic along Lower Luton Road

Traffic along Lower Luton Road - Credit: Photo supplied

Countryside campaigners have warned against building a school on farmland in Harpenden, saying the agricultural site acts as a natural buffer between neighbouring communities.

Over 200 local residents packed a public meeting on Sunday (6) to discuss Herts county council’s “surprise” plans to build a new secondary school on fields between Wheathampstead and Batford.

The council recently revealed it has initiated negotiations to buy up to 15 hectares of farmland off Lower Luton Road, on the corner of Common Lane, to pave the way for a new school for about 1,300 pupils.

Its forecasts show the town will suffer a shortage of 228 secondary places by 2019/20.

But Rick Sanderson, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Herts representative, warned that this part of the Green Belt was “critical” in preventing coalescence.

He explained: “It forms part of the narrow gap separating Batford and Harpenden from the Lea Valley estate and Wheathampstead.”

David Cairns, chairman of campaign group Right School Right Place, said: “We one hundred per cent support the creation of a new school for Harpenden and the villages and we recognise that a Green Belt location is necessary to secure the size of site needed for a secondary school.

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“But the council has failed to make a thorough and convincing case for this highly visible, sloping site.

“Traffic issues in themselves also defy belief. Lower Luton Road is very difficult to access from the main body of Harpenden – it is gridlocked at peak times and families in Southdown in particular would struggle to access a school on this site easily.”

David was also concerned about plans to terrace the site to create sports fields.

After the meeting, county councillor for Harpenden north east David Williams said: “It does slope, and sports pitches have to be flat, so it would have to be terraced.”

He said planning officers had considered other potential sites but considered the Lower Luton Road land the most viable in Harpenden.

Cllr Williams added: “I don’t deny the traffic issue would need careful consideration.

“I have asked officers at county council to look at current and predicted traffic conditions and the impact on [local roads].”

Herts county council would not build the school itself.

But, should the purchase of the site go ahead and a school given planning permission, the authority would grant a lease to the sponsors of a free school.