New school vital for Harpenden before new housing built, says planning officer

The development of 15 new homes in Foxton has been welcomed by the parish council.

The development of 15 new homes in Foxton has been welcomed by the parish council. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A Green Belt protection pressure group with strong concerns about new housing development in Harpenden has found an ally in the county council.

In his response on behalf of the county council to St Albans council’s draft Strategic Local Plan (SLP), principal planning officer Matt Wood voices similar concerns to the Harpenden Green Belt Association about its lack of acknowledgement of the need for a new secondary school in the town.

And he warns of the dangers of putting the cart before the horse and not planning for additional secondary school places before a strategic scale housing development is permitted in the town.

The county council’s response calls for the SLP - St Albans council’s planning blueprint - to be modified to acknowledge that a greenfield site will be needed to deliver additional secondary school capacity in Harpenden.

The Harpenden Green Belt Association has been a strong critic of the proposal contained in the draft SLP to release Green Belt land to the north west of the town for the potential development of 500 homes should it become necessary.

In its response to the draft SLP, the association maintains that it is wrong to consult with residents about Green Belt changes for housing without identifying the potential changes which will be required to accommodate schools and other infrastructure for that housing.

The county council, as the education authority, was responding primarily to the issue of schools in the SLP.

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And several times Mr Wood stressed that additional secondary capacity in Harpenden was a ‘when’ not an ‘if’ and that additional school places were needed now and not some time in the future.

He also quoted a planning inspector’s comments on the Site Allocation Local Development Document (SALDD) produced by Three Rivers Council that it was neither ‘positive nor effective’ without provision for future school developments.

The inspector added: “School provision that comes on stream too late is not characteristic of a sound plan and is harmful to children and families.”

Mr Wood is critical of the ‘silent policy’ on the subject of secondary capacity and calls for modification of the SLP to take that into account.

He also says it is inappropriate to allocate a broad location for housing growth in the north west of Harpenden given that the site is one of the locations the county council is looking at for a potential new secondary school.

He adds: “The provision of additional strategic scale housing development at Harpenden is contingent upon the provision of additional secondary school capacity.”