St Albans parents want to walk children to school, says councillor

PARENTS of young children actively want to walk their children to a new city centre primary school according to a district councillor for the area.

And Cllr Jack Pia, who represents St Peter’s Ward, is urging the county council to put children before traffic when deciding whether or not to open a new school on the University of Herts faculty of law site in Hatfield Road, St Albans.

The county council is looking to acquire the building to ease the severe shortage of primary school places in St Albans city centre but concerns have been voiced about the impact of parents dropping off and collecting their children in the busy Hatfield Road at peak times.

Cllr Pia said this week: “It affects my ward and around here people are desperate for a primary school and the ones I have spoken to are over the moon about this.”

He pointed out that in a lot of the terraced streets in his ward, many parents did not have two cars and had no option other than to walk their children to school. He said: “They actively want to walk their children to school even if they do have a car.”

He went on: “Those who drive to school don’t live around here and got in elsewhere through the sibling rule. What the county council is in danger of doing is putting cars before children.”

Cllr Pia added: “It is up to the head or the police to arrange something like a turning curve for parents who have to drop off their children.”

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The county council is looking to purchase land behind St Albans Liberal Club and the Museum of St Albans to provide more space for a new two-form-of-entry school on the law faculty site.

And it has also asked the district council about the possibility of sharing the use of existing playing fields or open spaces for children to use during weekdays

The council has already entered into an agreement with the county council to allow Bernard’s Heath schoolchildren to use land at the Marshals Avenue playing fields because the school is expanding.

And it has been asked about 10 other sites and its willingness to consider a licence for neighbouring schools to use them.

Two have already been ruled out by the district council – Cottonmill Allotments for use by St Peter’s JMI School, and Verulamium Park for the use of Prae Wood JMI children.

The council’s acting estates services manager, Debbi White, explained at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting: “The county council is looking at long-term planning up to 2028 and short term needs. Where there is a need to expand schools it is often on to the existing school playing fields so the county council has been in discussions as to whether land belonging to local councils can be used.”

She pointed out that a number of aspects to any agreement needed to be taken into account including whether a site was amenity space or had a playing pitch and whether the introduction of a playing pitch would fundamentally change the use of that area.

Community engagement and support portfolio holder, Cllr Chris Oxley, said: “We are happy to adopt a sympathetic approach as with Bernard’s Heath but we require more information on need, what other land the county council could use or alternative land we could use.”