St Albans School buses are ‘a fact of life’

The Gatehouse and St Albans School

The Gatehouse and St Albans School - Credit: Archant

The head of a St Albans school has warned neighbouring residents that its buses are a “fact of life” and if they cannot tolerate that, they should live elsewhere.

Andrew Grant, headmaster of St Albans School, near the Abbey Gateway, has hit out at critics who have either called for a stop to buses transporting 600 pupils to historic Romeland Hill, or are fighting a scheme to effectively turn Romeland gardens into a traffic island.

Mr Grant said it was St Albans district council which had proposed changes to the traffic flow around the burial site, not the school.

The council has suggested allowing buses to manoeuvre completely around the graveyard, to drop off and collect pupils from the school premises and exit via George Street onto the High Street.

But some locals have been up in arms about the proposal, warning that having buses drive along George Street could damage ancient buildings.

Mr Grant has rejected calls for students to instead be dropped off and picked up from either Westminster Lodge or St Michael’s car park and walk to school.

In a statement to the Herts Advertiser he asked whether residents of Abbey Mill Lane or Fishpool Street would “be happy to have 600 unsupervised students parading en masse mornings and afternoons?”

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Mr Grant said the school could not be legally responsible for the embarkation and disembarkation of pupils at locations “so remote from its premises”.

In response to residents’ complaints about parental cars, he said he would be “happy” to trial a bus-free day on which all 600 parents currently using the buses instead delivered children by car.

Mr Grant said: “If it proved a success, believe me, I would be more than happy for the school not to have to bother running a coach service.”

Dismissing suggestions that smaller buses be used instead, he said, “for mini coaches we estimate we would be looking at 66 vehicle movements twice a day. Does that appeal?”

Mr Grant pointed out that as Fishpool Street’s heritage was as a coaching road and highway, “there are centuries of precedent for the movement of passenger coaches.

“In the 21st century school buses are a fact of life and if it is a fact of life you cannot tolerate, you should not live near to a school”.

He said the school had been at the site for over 1,000 years and was an “integral part” of St Albans’ history.

Correspondence between a former town planner and the head of a local school has highlighted the contentious – and complicated – wrangle over the future transport of its pupils.

St Albans district council (SADC) wants Romeland gardens, currently one-way, to become a two-way road on the side nearest the Abbey, and have buses stop outside St Albans School to drop off and collect their pupils.

This prompted former town planner John Rae, of Orchard Street, to write to both organisations warning the proposal could have a “tragic effect” should there be an emergency.

He said Romeland was “the only way in and out” for residents living on the Verulamium Park side of the Abbey Gatehouse.

Headmaster Andrew Grant recently wrote to Mr Rae, referring to a planning application he had objected to last year.

He and some residents had been concerned the scheme for a house on Pondwicks Close would result in a through-route from Romeland, cutting through via Abbey Mill End across the bottom of the Abbey orchard to the bottom of Holywell Hill.

However the owner of that site signed a covenant preventing any such access and SADC approved the scheme.

But in an apparent about-turn, Mr Grant’s letter to Mr Rae admitted he could see that despite the likely creation of a rat-run and danger posed to pupils, “I had overestimated those dangers and a through-route at such a point would relieve you of your concerns and obviate the perils in fear of which you live owing to the fact that Romeland is, as you state, the only way in and out.

“Indeed such is the congestion there and in George Street at busy periods even outside our pick-up times that it now appears to me that creating such a through route is an obvious and long overdue solution.”

He said he would withdraw his objection and support in the “strongest terms” the removal of any restrictions to aid the creation of a through-route.

Mr Grant added that according to his archivist, as heirs-at-law of the gatehouse, “we still have the right, never rescinded, to close the section of road under the arch and charge a toll for passage”.