New school on Harpenden’s Green Belt will cost up to £56m

Farmland bordering Lower Luton Road on which Herts county council is keen to build a new school

Farmland bordering Lower Luton Road on which Herts county council is keen to build a new school - Credit: Archant

Green Belt campaigners are crying foul over an independent consultants’ reports supporting the location of a proposed new secondary school on a Harpenden cattle farm.

But local consortium, the Harpenden Secondary Education Trust (HSET), backed by equally vocal campaigners, is eager for a planning application to now go ahead.

Following a Herts county council education panel meeting tomorrow the findings of consultants who have pinpointed land north of Lower Luton Road in Batford as their preferred site for a new school will be passed onto the Education Funding Agency (EFA).

But Wheathampstead parish councillor Judy Shardlow warned: “The Green Belt land between Wheathampstead and Batford has always been seen as having a critical role in preventing urban sprawl.

“How can the authors of this report [Vincent and Gorbing] have any credibility when they are the same consultants who 30 years ago recommended the closure of Wheathampstead Secondary School?”

The council has spent £275,000 on the latest Vincent and Gorbing analysis.

A spokeswoman for campaign group Right School Right Place said members were still perusing over 100 reports - thousands of pages - recently released by the council to support the conclusions of its review.

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However, she said the group was disappointed consultants had concluded Batford was the preferred site, particularly as building a new Harpenden school would cost between £35-56 million.

This would include £6.5 million for highway works but excludes land acquisition costs, according to consultants.

A town planning assessment for the council admits that the site has not been identified for Green Belt release in St Albans district council’s draft strategic local plan for future development.

But consultants said that the Green Belt policy “might be overcome” and that should a scheme be taken forward, the issues of landscape and heritage impact, along with agricultural viability, would need to be addressed.

Philip Waters, HSET chairman, said the council had gathered an “enormous amount of information” as part of a robust assessment of a possible school site.

The trust has already submitted a bid to the government to establish a free school to serve Harpenden and surrounding areas.

Representatives were interviewed on the Harpenden Secondary Free School bid at the Department for Education (DfE) on January 20, with the outcome expected in March.

Philip said he knew that setting up the school “wouldn’t be an easy ride” as there were too few potential sites to build upon.

The council’s cabinet member for education Cllr Chris Hayward said he understood concerns about the proposed Batford site, but it was the most suitable and viable location.

Money for the possible purchase of the site - which could only go ahead with the agreement of the DfE and the EFA - “would not come from council coffers”.

A report to the education panel said material collated for the agency “is sufficient for them to move now to start the process of making a planning application should they choose to do so”.