Protest over new St Albans free school plan

ANGERED by the lack of consultation and concerned about the potential problems facing the proposed new primary school site councillors staged a protest on Tuesday afternoon.

Cllrs Rod Perks and Melvyn Teare were posted outside the Law School building on Hatfield Road on the day the free school consortium held a drop-in session for anyone interested to know more about the school which is earmarked to open there.

The duo, who held a banner which read “Right Idea, Wrong Location”, said their “11th-hour campaign” was to generate debate and lead to more localised consultation about the school.

They were joined by the local leader of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr Robert Donald, as they kick-started their protest and handed out copies of an email they had sent to county councillor Richard Thake, executive member for education and skills, which outlined the seven elements of their arguments against the site.

Their concerns focus largely on pupil safety as well as the traffic problems which they feel would be inevitable along Hatfield Road with the effects being felt throughout the city.

They are also concerned that the conservation area will be “trampled” on by plans to construct a tarmac playground.

Their email also lists concerns about Bernard’s Heath as a playing field, the impact on the city museum, the economic consequences for local businesses and the catchment area of the free school.

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Cllr Perks said he was keen to invite the proponents of the free school to an “open morning” so that they could experience the traffic conditions which parents could expect to be confronted with five days a week, 40 weeks a year.

Cllr Donald said: “The Lib Dems of course recognise the need to have another school in St Albans as soon as possible. But this needs to be in the right location and what needs to be asked is, is this the best site?

“It seems to be that this is the cheapest rather than the best.”

The county council, which is supporting the free school consortium which is made up of parents and educationalists, say they were pleased with the turnout at the session on Tuesday afternoon. A spokesperson said: “We were pleased to see a steady stream of people at the drop-in session, all showing a lot of interest in the plans.”

Many interested parties, as well as parents, also attended the session and said they were not yet convinced by the proposal’s choice of site, although all of them said they supported the idea.

The managing director of Kashu, Gels Picciuto, whose restaurant is located next door to the School of Law, said: “We understand and accept the requirement for a new school in the area. We just don’t feel it’s the right location.”

Citing the traffic problems it would generate as the restaurant’s biggest concern, Gels said he believed most parents used the car to take children to school because they were on their way to other places such as work.

He added that he felt it was time for local councillors to put pressure on the developers behind other city centre sites to consider putting a school there.