Planning application to build new school in Harpenden delayed

Traffic along Lower Luton Road

Traffic along Lower Luton Road - Credit: Photo supplied

Harpenden parents have accused the county council and government education bosses of ‘ineptitude’ after learning that a planning application to build a new school is still a long way off.

There has been anger after the Harpenden Secondary Education Trust recently published an updated outline timetable on its website, showing that a scheme would not be submitted for consideration until autumn next year.

Yet contracts were exchanged for the site of the proposed school on Green Belt land, on the corner of Lower Luton Road and Common Lane, at the start of this year.

In response to the trust’s updated timetable, Ben Bardsley, chairman of the 1,700-strong Harpenden Parents Group (HPG), has demanded ‘urgent clarity’, as it was hoped that temporary classrooms would be available at the site by September next year.

He has written to Herts county council’s portfolio holder for education, David Williams, reminding him he had previously stated that a planning application to build on the agricultural land was supposed to be submitted in August this year, but ‘definitely’ no later than December, for a 2018 opening.

When a timetable was originally published after contracts were exchanged, HPG said planning should be brought forward, to reduce the risk of further delays to a project already at least two years late, from the council’s originally stated opening target of 2016, and at least seven years on from the start of the process of looking for a new site to open a new school.

But, in an updated timeline for the Harpenden Secondary Free School, the trust says that a contractor will be selected in Spring next year, who will develop proposed designs and plans for the site in conjunction with the Education Funding Agency (EFA).

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This will lead to an initial public consultation, for residents to view and comment on the Green Belt scheme.

In autumn 2017, once the plans have been tweaked following the public consultation, a planning application will then be submitted to the district council, for its determination.

Assuming all goes to plan, construction will then begin on the 42.8 acre site - but not until Spring 2018.

Ben told Cllr Williams that HPG members were “seriously concerned that there is a significant risk to the 2018 opening date being deliverable following the updated timetable being published, even if the initial opening is in temporary accommodation”.

He said there was “already significant stress among children and parents caused by the uncertainty over the new school. This further delay is a kick in the teeth and further evidence to parents, frankly, that HCC and the government appear unable to deliver on a promise of new free schools announced by [then] Prime Minister David Cameron.

“HPG does not think that the timetable laid out on the website will deliver the school when it is needed, and it is HPG’s view that the timetable needs to be brought forwards to reduce the risk of ... pushing it back another year to 2019.”

Another member of the group, Thomas Parrott, accused the council and the EFA of ‘ineptitude’ because of the further delays. He said: “Parents are seething.”

Cllr Williams was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press, but in a previous statement, published by the county council, he acknowledged parents’ disappointment over the later-than-hoped-for opening.

He said all parties were ‘committed’ to have the school welcome pupils “in the quickest possible timescales” and that both the trust and EFA were progressing to the next stages of their programme.