St Albans school divides opinion with plans to close public right of way

The entrance to public right of way 29A onto Sandringham School field from Sandringham Crescent. Pic

The entrance to public right of way 29A onto Sandringham School field from Sandringham Crescent. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

A St Albans secondary school is hoping to close a public right of way which impedes its expansion.

The entrance to public right of way 29A onto Sandringham School field from Sandringham Crescent. Pic

The entrance to public right of way 29A onto Sandringham School field from Sandringham Crescent. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Sandringham School has applied to St Albans district council to close public right of way (PROW) 29A, which runs through the school grounds.

It reaches from Sandringham Crescent onto the school field, where it would take a right-angle turn and exit onto a popular woodland track parallel to Chiltern Road, according to the Herts county council's (HCC) online PROW map. However, headteacher Alan Gray said the path now leads to nowhere.

The academy has been given permission to extend the tennis courts as part of wider plans to heighten the art block, refloor a warm-up area, and extend The Sandpit Theatre.

However, this cannot go ahead if PROW 29A is maintained because obstructing a public right of way is a criminal offence.

The predecessor to PROW 29A, PROW 29, ran through open land. When the Marshalswick estate was developed in the 1950s, PROW 29 was diverted around the school's grounds and became 29A.

However, 29A was not moved when Sandringham, then Marshalswick School, expanded in the 1970s.

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Public response to the application has been mixed, with some raging the loss of a footpath and others highlighting potential security risks of keeping it open.

Scott Whorrod said: "Most importantly it will help Sandringham School offer appropriate safe-guarding to its students.

"Having a right of way through a school campus is unacceptable, and opens students and staff up to potential danger."

Helen Wills said Sandringham "desperately needs to maintain its position as a leading state school nationally and in Hertfordshire".

Assistant headteacher at Sandringham, Mark Allday, submitted a response to the application. It reads: "This is part of our development to meet the needs of the increased number of students at the school.

"Undoubtedly the school will also make said facilities available to the community to use beyond the school day."

Others have railed against the proposal. Charles Orme said: "There is plenty of room elsewhere on the school's site to build more tennis courts etc. I understand that the school wish to extend the existing tennis courts: that may well be their preference and possibly more cost effective but in that case the proper solution is for them to divert public footpath 29A."

He said he is "unaware" of any significant security issues "in the last 30 years that I have been living opposite the school".

Chairman of the St Albans Rambler club, Brian Hutton, said: "I understand that the school has closed the footpath during recent building/renovation work, although without authorisation.

"As a result the footpath has been unused in recent times.

"I fully accept that the original footpath may no longer be viable but I would expect that the path could be diverted rather than closed.

"In principle it is important that public footpaths or rights of way are maintained and I would hope that this principle would be respected."

One commenter said: "The school is no doubt conscious that there is a possibility that they may have to move the 3G pitch if their

application to stop up public footpath 29A fails.

"This doubtless would costs hundreds of thousands of pounds. It is possible that the mention of security concerns (which are not mentioned in the application itself) is to bolster the school's application to stop up public footpath 29A is a cynical ploy but I accept that that is of concern to parents."

Peter Smith said: "If this application was to be passed it would set a precedent for every landowner in the country who would like to extinguish a public right of way on their land."

Other people have raised concerns about congestion which may offset to the school's main entrance on The Ridgeway.

Sandringham headteacher Alan Gray said this decision had not been "taken lightly".

He said: "It should have been moved then [when the school was redeveloped] and it is a bit of a mystery why it wasn't, but it is down to us to the right thing now.

"So that is what we are doing - acting responsibly, going through the legal process, listening to experts and doing the right thing by the young people."

Mr Gray insisted "the last thing we want to do is upset anyone".

View the application using reference 5/2019/0969.

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