Minister cancels new school in Radlett despite £2 million spend

The proposed site for Harperbury free school

The proposed site for Harperbury free school - Credit: Archant

Despite five years of hard graft and £2 million being spent, a free school proposed to cater for 840 students has been canned because of concerns over its size and Green Belt location.

Clive Glover, founder and vice-chair of governors for the proposed Harperbury Free School, said that “with deep regret and dismay” he had to announce that the project had been cancelled by the Schools Minister Lord Nash.

Last week’s decision by the minister has been slammed by local politicians, St Albans MP Anne Main and Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden as “extremely disappointing”.

Harperbury Free School, proposed to have been built on a four-hectare site at the former Harperbury Hospital grounds off Harper Lane in Radlett, was to serve families living in Shenley, London Colney, Radlett, Bricket Wood, Borehamwood and Elstree.

But Lord Nash said he was cancelling the project as he was concerned about the “significant planning risk given the location of the [school] trust’s preferred permanent site in Herts’ Green Belt”.

He said St Albans council planning officials, in pre-planning application talks, were “clear that it was very unlikely that approval would be granted.

“The reasons cited were the size of the site, the building not being in keeping with the rural surroundings and ongoing issues of highways and parking.

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“I have decided that the project should not continue as I am not convinced that we would ever be able to secure planning permission at the hospital site.”

Despite the Department for Education approving an application to pursue plans for the construction of the free school three years ago – it was initially to open in September 2014 – no scheme has yet been brought before the district council.

Thus residents, and the school’s supporters, have not had their say on the plan, and councillors have not been given the chance to make a decision on it.

The school was planned to have been built on Green Belt land, near a major housing development approved at the former hospital site in November last year.

St Albans council agreed to a bid by Bloor Homes to construct 206 homes, including 52 four-bedroom houses, on a brownfield site at Harperbury, despite it being a major development in the Green Belt, as it encompassed a number of large redundant former hospital buildings.

Clive said that in January this year, St Albans planners “made clear their view that the four acre site secured within the overall Harperbury Hospital site by the Education Funding Agency was too small for a secondary school, so they would be unable to recommend it for planning approval.

“They said it was simply too small for the building and external facilities including car parking, hard play and sports facilities and screening, let alone providing any room for future expansion.”

He went on: “It is frankly scandalous. These government officials have clearly been incompetent. They have managed completely to destroy the valid aspirations of hundreds of local families who desperately want a local secondary school for their children to attend.”

Lord Nash has refused to secure more land at the site, saying that Bloor Homes would not ‘gift’ any more land for the free school, “and even if we were able to buy additional land, it would add an unacceptable level of cost to the project.

“In any event, planners have been clear that even with additional land, it is still unlikely that a planning application would be approved.

“There are other schools in the local area offering a good quality education.”

Anne Main was told last week in Parliament that the cost to the public purse of the school, for the combined capital and revenue cost of the project to date, was £1,919,000.