Thank you for those of you who have passed on responses received from the Department for Education (DfE) concerning the cancellation of our school. They are all including the same messages of course, some elements of which are very misleading.
Firstly it is important to say that St Albans planners did NOT say they would not give us planning permission on the Harperbury hospital site as such, as they were talking specifically about the small part of the site supposedly “secured” for our school by the Education Funding Agency (EFA). This site – 2 acres for the building and 2 acres of fields – was too small for a school that would eventually have 840 students and 70 staff. There was insufficient room for a hard “play” area, a Multi-Use Games Area (MUGA) and car parking for the 101 spaces demanded by St Albans. The site EFA had “agreed” was actually smaller than the minimum defined in their own Guidelines (called BB103) as well. And we have now had confirmation from DfE, the Department of Health (who own the Harperbury site) and Bloor Homes that no formal agreement was ever finalised anyway.
For the record, the Harperbury hospital site is around 232 acres in total of which 13 acres is occupied by the new NHS Hospital (Kingfisher Court), around 21 acres of redundant buildings which will be demolished and replaced by 206 new Bloor homes and so has nearly 200 acres of open fields left. The site is in the Green Belt and so much will be left as open fields for the moment but building a school somewhere on the site could well be accepted as “Very Special Circumstances” by planning authorities provided other issues such as the “need” for the school and transport and parking were addressed satisfactorily.
I should also point out that around one third of the total site is located in Hertsmere (so Shenley) for planning purposes so their views may differ from those of their colleagues in St Albans.
DfE is also saying that Hertfordshire County Council (the Local Education Authority) have said our proposed school “is not needed”. This is misquoting the Council’s statement that they were “not relying on” our school to provide the needed extra places and expect to meet the future need for extra places through expansions of existing schools and some new schools if deemed necessary.
However, DfE officials and Ministers have been making it very clear that our project is now absolutely dead. They will not review it or discuss it with us or anyone else who has tried on our behalf. They have further said they will not accept any projects involving those of us involved in the Harperbury Free School and (although not stated directly) it seems clear they never want to hear the name “Harperbury” again. So, although we know there are other potential locations within the hospital site and other sites in the local area, DfE and EFA simply will not lift a finger to work on these.
So they seem to be expecting new applications for schools in this area from people untainted by the Harperbury virus and will give them due consideration and believe they will be able to find suitable sites for them. Frankly, who in their right mind is now going to spend months and years putting together a new Free School bid knowing what happened to us?
And it gets worse. Hertfordshire County Council is actively looking at how to meet the expected demand for places over the next few years. Their own estimates show a significant deficit in places in our area within a few years and they have a legal obligation to ensure every child has a place at a school.
However they do not recognise any demand let alone “need” for a “local” school at all. They intend to expand existing schools where possible (perfectly sensible but there is a limit to what is possible) and maybe build some new ones. But only in large towns such as Watford, Hemel Hempstead etc. They absolutely refuse to accept any suggestion that a secondary school should be built in places like Radlett, Shenley or London Colney. Ever.
So I am afraid we have failed. There will be no local school for local people and you will all have to continue to fight each year to try to get your children into over-subscribed secondary schools miles away and then be forced to pay £1,000 per year for them to spend 10 to 15 hours a week on buses travelling to and from schools.
Sorry, we really tried….for five years now