© 2017 The Harpenden Society
At a series of exhibitions in the summer, local residents and parents of school-age children had a chance to scrutinise and comment on the Harpenden Secondary Education Trust (HSET) proposals for building a new secondary ‘free’ school, close to Common Lane and Lower Luton Road at Batford. The location was chosen after what the trust describes as a ‘comprehensive site search exercise’ in 2014. That search failed to find a site of adequate size within Harpenden’s urban boundaries, leading to the unavoidable need to encroach on Green Belt land.
The Katherine Warington School is being established by the HSET, which comprises a partnership of the town’s three existing secondary schools, the University of Hertfordshire and Rothamsted Research. The background to the naming of the school was reported in our Summer newsletter.
Trust chairman Philip Waters says the existing schools have taken increased numbers of pupils over the last decade, but it is neither feasible nor desirable for them to expand further. Hertfordshire County Council have agreed to purchase the 42 acres (17 hectares) of farmland needed for the new school buildings and accompanying sports fields and other facilities. The location and especially its Green Belt status have, not surprisingly, made the project controversial.
Opposite the modern Lea Springs apartments, as far north as the intersection with Batford Road, the school site borders directly on to Common Lane. But beyond that point, for some 200m, it is set back by about 25m, leaving a strip of green ‘retained land’ for continued agricultural use, interrupted only by a pedestrian/cycle school entrance. Beyond Common Lane’s junction with Milford Hill, that green strip opens out to between 45 and 80m wide – enclosing the existing Batford Farm buildings and extending to the northern end of the school site against the narrow lane leading to Mackerye End.
It should be made clear that, as we go to press, planning approval has yet to be granted. The plans, which are said to take into account the impact on Green Belt, traffic and transport, local heritage, flood and surface water, landscape and visual intrusion, are due to be submitted to Hertfordshire County Planning Authority in September. Nevertheless it was clear from the plans revealed at the public exhibitions that all those involved in the project are confident of its progress and fulfilment.
So as to minimise encroachment on the present green ‘buffer’ space between Harpenden’s town boundary and Wheathampstead’s Lea Valley Estate to the east, the school buildings will be located on the south-west part of the site, to within about 25m of Common Lane. Entrance for vehicles will be from Lower Luton Road, via a drive-round loop road designed to minimise traffic disruption on the B653. Adjacent tree planting – between a total of 111 parking spaces – is designed to soften the visual impact of the school development.
Herts County Council is expected to give the go-ahead for a new pedestrian crossing across the B653 outside the school main entrance. The proposals declare, optimistically, that ‘a robust public transport strategy’ is expected to deter car use by those travelling to and from the new school.
Concerns about possible flooding, bearing in mind the school’s location at the lower end of a sloping site, have been addressed thoroughly, say the planners. A proposed ‘infiltration basin’ in the south-west corner of the site will, it is claimed, reduce the flood risk at its lowest point, along the Lower Luton Road boundary.
Artist’s impressions show the red brick construction with large windows characterising the main school buildings, while the main entrance features what the proposals describe as ‘full-height glazing framed with a small canopy’. However the sports hall – the first part of the project to be built – will be constructed of ‘pre-cast concrete planks’ on a steel frame, though with ‘brickwork cladding’ between areas of ‘coloured render’.
Environmental concerns in regard to energy consumption and hence greenhouse gas emissions are said to have been addressed fully by Kier the developer, optimising the use of natural light without glare or summer time overheating. Low-energy LED main lighting is planned with roof-mounted photovoltaic solar panels further reducing regular energy costs. ‘Natural ventilation’ will complement what is described as ‘high-efficiency thermal fabric’, implying a high standard of wall and roof insulation.
Central government, that is the Treasury, has approved the full capital funding, thought to be between £5m and £6m, for construction of the school by Kier, the appointed developer.
Governors have been nominated, as well as project manager and head teacher designate of the new school. He is Tony Smith, currently deputy head of Roundwood Park School.
Meanwhile, says Mr Waters, ‘accountants and lawyers are driving the project forward’. Building work is due to start in March next year, with initial opening of the school scheduled for September 2018. It will initially accommodate six classrooms for around 180 year-7 students, in a block which will, when the whole development has been completed – scheduled for September 2019 – house the school’s sports hall. The completed school is intended to cater for up to 1150 children.
Needless to say, there are those who view the Katherine Warington School proposals less positively than HSET, the primary sponsor of the scheme. They were able to register their reservations by completing the questionnaire distributed at the public exhibitions, which is also available on the https://kwschool.co.uk website.
Most prominent among the objections to the KWS plans are those put forward by the pressure group ‘Right School Right Place’ (RSRP). Its spokesperson and Common Lane resident Hillary Taylor asserts most fundamentally that HSET and Herts County Council have made inaccurate assessments of the demand for secondary school places in the Harpenden area in the years ahead. The need for a fourth secondary school in the town must, declares RSRP, be called into question.
In its July newsletter RSRP maintains that there never has been, nor is there forecast, more applicants from Harpenden than current places (existing intake capacity 572) at the three existing schools: Sir John Lawes, Roundwood Park and St George’s. Around one third of secondary school pupils attending those schools live outside Harpenden, in Wheathampstead, Redbourn or the outlying villages.
According to RSRP – citing Herts CC forecasts – siting a new school at Batford would increase the average travelling distance for pupils across the present schools’ catchment area, with the majority needing transport – rather than being able to walk or cycle. Based on projected pupil numbers coming from across the whole area served by Harpenden schools, RSRP concludes that, if a new secondary school is to be built anywhere, it would be most sensibly located at Wheathampstead.
Other objections to the proposals have come from archaeologists concerned about the possible disturbance of historically valuable Roman remains on the site. And there have been expressions of concern relating to the slope of the overall site and the consequent need for significant earth moving operations, especially at the northern end of the site to achieve – literally rather than figuratively – level playing fields for the school. Such earth moving will, it is argued, materially alter the present wholly-rural landscape detrimentally.