Harpenden farmer faces eviction to make way for new secondary school

Phil Holt at work on Batford Farm

Phil Holt at work on Batford Farm - Credit: Archant

A farmer has been rocked by revelations that the Green Belt site at the centre of his pedigree cattle-raising business for the past 15 years is under threat of a compulsory purchase for a new school.

Herts county council announced last Thursday that following a recent independent review of nine possible locations in Harpenden it wants to push ahead with setting up a secondary school on a 21-hectare farm on the corner of Common Lane and Lower Luton Road, in Batford.

But the first farmer Phil Holt knew of the proposal was when a local policeman mentioned it in passing - as no-one from the council has bothered contacting him to explain their intentions.

Yet the council’s education panel meets tomorrow (Friday) to discuss the next move in securing the site for a new six form of entry school which could be expanded to accommodate 8FE if needed in future.

Phil told the Herts Advertiser: “I’m not just concerned, I deeply regret this is happening. The first I heard that the farm might be acquired under a compulsory order was from a local policeman. I was shocked.

“My land agent knows nothing either. I’m not taking it lightly, but I’m a busy person who works seven days a week.”

He has rejected comments in a report to the council that he could simply move his pedigree cattle to different sites for grazing.

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The report said: “The development of a significant proportion of the site for a school would require Mr Holt to acquire more pasture elsewhere for the winter period for the cattle enterprise.”

Phil, who has another 20 years’ lease on Batford Farm, said: “All the other land we use is on annual licences, so we don’t know whether we have them from year-to-year. My calves are raised in buildings at Batford, and we have to have them inside.”

The Batford site is held under a family trust. A report to council warns a compulsory purchase may be needed to “ensure all interests are included within the title”.

It is the second time the council has voiced its preference for the Batford location following an independent review.

Two years ago this paper revealed anger among Green Belt campaigners who had initially been kept in the dark about the attempt to pave the way for a new school.

While most locals acknowledge there is a need for an additional institution as the council faces a shortfall of 248 places in the town’s schools by 2019, there has been strong disagreement about its possible location.

The council ordered a second consultation to further examine the suitability of nine possible sites, partly to dampen local concerns, and to provide a strong case to support the Harpenden Secondary Education Trust’s bid to the government to establish a new school.