RSRP - Planning Application Challenge
Following a review of the representations made to Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) as part of its Planning Application process for the Katherine Warington School, RSRP has concluded that its representations were inadequately considered in that process. It had been hoped that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government would have exercised his right to Call In the application. A Call In would have resulted in a Planning Inquiry and brought the necessary independence to the process. However despite numerous representations from many sources the Secretary of State chose not to exercise this discretionary right.
This left the option of a more direct legal challenge and RSRP considered in detail how points made in their representations were reflected in the material presented to HCC’s Development Control Committee. RSRP were mindful that while the requirement was that the process considered points made, it did not have to agree with them. RSRP found evidence that many points were not considered, and in parallel asked further questions of HCC to attempt to clarify the position. In response HCC has both refuted any suggestion that it failed to present material, or that it had failed to properly represent material in its reports. Further, the inability of HCC to provide information which would have assisted in this assessment, when it would appear that HCC had the same information readily available for some time, was particularly frustrating. Accordingly RSRP took legal advice and has decided to apply for permission to have a Judicial Review into HCC’s decision. The application was submitted a few days ago.
The decision to apply was not taken lightly. RSRP has always maintained a key point is where a school should be located and continues to hold the view that it should be located where it best addresses the local need in the area. RSRP’s concerns in this matter appear to have been reinforced by recent information released by HCC about the Secondary and Primary applications for 2018 admissions.
At Primary level this year’s admissions record 399 applications from residents in Harpenden Town – confirming the trend of reducing numbers and highlighting significant over-capacity in the Town. With a proposed 750 secondary places in the town when this cohort reaches secondary almost 1 in 2 pupils in 4 schools would be travelling into the Town. At Secondary, the second (and final) round of Continuing Interest has seen both non-faith schools extend their numbers. However, SJL – the nearest school in priority area for those to the east of Harpenden, has failed to extend the maximum distance to include any Wheathampstead, Kimpton and the Waldens non-sibling entrants. These are the areas which RSRP has consistently maintained would be under-served by a new school in Harpenden, and they are clearly at the back of the queue when allocations are made.
In other developments HCC appear to have eventually acknowledged failings in respect of the handling of the petition raised in Spring 2017 and signed by many RSRP members – details will shortly be posted as an update on the change.org petition page.
RSRP Planning Representations
During the course of the Planning Application RSRP made a number of representations to Hertfordshire County Council as the Local Planning Authority hearing the Application.
Representations took three forms – initial representations identified errors and omissions in the application and requested these were corrected. There were 6 such letters submitted. The main representations were made in five reports submitted between 16 November 2017 and 24 January 2018 – these have been posted in our document library as pdfs. The initial representation, submitted on 16 November 2017, included copies of the letters submitted previously and updates on actions noted subsequently. This representation was general in nature and covered elements of most key topics, many referred to as pending further information from HCC (as applicant). Subsequent representations were more specific to particular topics, for example 8 December addressed Education Needs.
The third batch of submissions were follow up letters to points not responded to, and procedural questions about the declaration of the last period of consultation.
Further material was submitted to HCC ahead of the Planning Application, specifically when it appeared HCC had declared new information late in the application process. RSRP is currently reviewing the material it submitted in the context of HCC’s assessment of the application – this is, in essence, a check that all valid points of Planning were captured and addressed in the decision process for the application – this is as published by HCC on its web portal, and in the papers associated with the Development Control Committee on 19 February 2018 – these can be accessed via Hertfordshire.gov.uk
Herts County Council Fails Local Residents- Again [19th February 2018]
Despite a history of numerous errors, omissions, inconsistencies and other problems inherent in both the proposal and project, as expected Herts County Council (HCC) approved their own planning application at a special Development Control Panel convened today, 19th February 2018. While a small group of residents may take a measure of relief from the meeting, many more across Hertfordshire are expressing disbelief and dismay. Recognised by HCC as a Green Belt development outside the local plan, the NPPF requires the decision to pass the application to be referred to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, with the expectation of a call-in to ensure the completely independent review that this application so badly needs (and appears to have been missing so far).
Clearly expecting a large number of visitors, parts of County Hall were roped off. Despite the huge amount of local interest, the fact that it was the first working day after half term for the fifth date given for the meeting were perhaps reasons why there were relatively few visitors in the public area. Those visitors able to make the meeting were not allowed in the main entrance, but were ushered into the Council Chamber via the back door and warned not to make any distractions. With 6 hours allocated for the meeting agenda, the Chair opened by saying he hoped to deal with matter in 3 hours and succeeded as none of the key issues that that HCC continue to attempt to bury were really brought to the table with the Panel seemingly reluctant to challenge any aspect outside those the Officer introduced in his overview.
At an unheard-of 130 pages the enormous officers report included over 50 conditions, a vast number that serves to confirm not only the unsuitability of the site, but also the poor level of preparation, engagement and appropriate planning, something that at least 2 of HCCs own departments, St Albans and Wheathampstead criticised the applicants for. Bizarrely the officers identified that the car parking provision was likely to be at least 20 short of the requirement they would expect but the Panel failed to require the developer of the site to provide a more appropriate number. Large numbers of objections were minimised or marginalised, while scant benefits were not only given more space and time in the presentations, but were consistently presented in a manner that removed any veneer of balanced debate. Supporters including local councillors failed to provide accurate, objective, evidence-based information, apparently preferring to denigrate those who expressed concern and gloss over details that clearly showed no need for a school at this Batford location.
Particularly disappointing was the member for North East Harpenden, Cllr David Williams who spoke in support of the proposal. Now Leader of the Council and having chosen not to engage with, listen to or act in any way to support his constituents since his election, he also appeared to resort to personal comments aimed at individual residents in his constituency during his speech. At one point he claimed that 50% bus transport (by potential school pupils) demonstrated a sustainable travel solution. In fact, at some 20 busses/40 journeys out and return, morning and evening, it completely misses the point that a school in a more suitable area of need would take traffic off the roads and allow some 80% pupils to be in easy walking distance, significantly removing the need for busses altogether.
As it stands, because of distances involved, the vast majority of pupils are expected to need to travel by car/bus, with a significant proportion on the Lower Luton Road, known by Herts County Council to be over-capacity. Evidence from existing schools clearly demonstrates school-related traffic problems. A proposed 4-vehicle central queueing lane for vehicles entering the school from the Lower Luton Road was explained to be sufficient to reduce traffic impact. Those who know the road and regularly sit in very long rush-hour queues through Batford will quickly understand that is over-optimistic, as is under-provision of on-site parking as a method of deterring car travel. The traffic scenarios in themselves just serve to confirm that this location is about as far from an appropriate solution as anyone can imagine.
One minor concession appeared to have been made – although some council members still held the view that the Lower Luton Road was safe, a document handed out at the beginning of the meeting stated that bus travel would be increased for Wheathampstead children and that it would be funded by the ESFA – though the promise was for the first seven years only. Traffic discussion served to crystallise just one aspect of this inappropriate proposal. Despite stepping through some elements, sadly at times the supposedly-neutral Spatial Planning department seemed more like a cheerleader for the development.
Speaking for the proposal, local parents organisation Harpenden Parent Group not surprisingly failed to address material planning issues, question the many problems inherent in the plans put forward, or recognise the looming place surplus. In addition to also resorting to derogatory remarks about anyone who tested the suitability of the plans, they also implied they were party to information that might otherwise be regarded as confidential by Herts County Council, including school application figures that are believed not to have been finalised or publicly released yet. The head-elect similarly criticised those who had taken the time to analyse and understand the proposals in great detail. In extolling the virtues of a school that has yet to be developed, supporters failed to demonstrate how a new school, modelled on the existing 3 schools would successfully serve those pupils who are currently less well served in the existing model, the perhaps less academic pupils who struggle today. It all demonstrated a lost opportunity for Harpenden that will continue to fail a certain percentage of our children.
Very early in this whole saga, HCC stated that the appropriate time for discussion of all matters would be at planning and they would not purchase the land until they had planning permission. Since the planning application was launched, however, HCC have continued to claim that it is now too late to test or debate their evidence base and decisions. Last week, HCC confirmed that at some unknown time they changed course on land ownership (apparently without notification or public scrutiny) to acquire the land before planning in order to engineer hearing their own planning application. That alone demonstrates a far from neutral approach, along with a complete lack of respect for the very people they are meant to serve. What are they thinking? The public are more than ever seeing this as a continuing trend.
We look forward to Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government exercising his right to call-in this application because this proposal requires the completely independent review that a call-in would provide. Combining HCC’s resounding lack of engagement and understanding of just how unsuitable this site is with a not unexpected decision from the panel it is safe to say that opposition will continue and steps are in hand.
Update: Another Delay – 5 February 2018
Imminent Planning Hearing - DELAYED
A special meeting of Hertfordshire County Council’s Development Control Committee, set to review the School Planning Application on 8th February has been cancelled. Although not formally announced, the cancellation was first heard of through third party notification via the Harpenden Society.
The reason cited for the delay is officer workload – that the Officer’s report, outlining the material factors and responses for Councillors to review and base their judgement on, has not been finalised. It is anticipated that the report will be ready for publication by 14th February and the meeting to review will be on 22nd February.
Whether all necessary material will be available and presentable by then or whether it gives enough time for those Councillors to thoroughly review is another question altogether.
Another delay will not come as a surprise to many in a project that has been dogged by failed promises for many years. Significant changes and additions to the material presented in the application have occurred as the application progressed, some as late as last week after the now cancelled meeting had been called. However some core elements remain missing, despite being pointed out by RSRP early in the process.
The publication of critical Landscape information, 2½ months after it was received by HCC Planners coupled with the unwillingness to provide a plan to protect the Archaeology on the site question both HCC’s ability to follow procedure in the assessment and their commitment, as an applicant, to follow good practice.
RSRP contend that many of the faults with the Application stem directly from an identified and acknowledged failing in HCC schools planning processes. In 2006, following difficulties with the secondary transfer process in the Harpenden Education Planning Area, HCC held a formal and extensive enquiry (Scrutiny). This concluded that HCC’s forecasting system did not provide sufficient information and recommended that more detailed planning was adopted. HCC accepted this and committed to implement the recommendation (and a number of others from the Scrutiny) but failed to do so. This failure was compounded recently by the commissioning of a “new” forecasting system. In reality it’s more like the old forecasting system, but provided by a new supplier. Not only does the new system fail to address identified shortcomings, but so far it has only produced 4 years planning information where there used to be ten. It has also has required substantial ‘manipulation’ by HCC to produce material to support the application. The new system was signed off by Councillor David Williams in his role as Executive Member responsible for Education.
With the removal of funding from previous (2015) estimates, including removing over £6m for road safety measures, it is little wonder that many local residents think that local politicians are prioritising the Party Line and Profit over the People they were elected to represent. As noted in our previous update you can continue to make representations about the planning application – details of how and topics to consider are on our website.
RSRP Update – 25 January 2018
Planning Hearing Imminent?
It is our understanding that Hertfordshire County Council, the local Planning Authority for the Town Planning Application for the Katherine Warrington School, are moving towards a hearing for the determination of the application. A one-off additional meeting of the Council’s Development Control Committee has been added to the Council’s Calendar for 8 February 2018. No agenda has been published for the meeting but yesterday a note was circulated by Councillor David Williams that this meeting has been called to hear the application.
The schedule published by the applicants – Hertfordshire County Council and The Education and Skills Funding Agency – with the application identified the scheduled Development Control Committee meeting of 20 December 2017 as the target required to meet September 2018 full opening (and partial opening in September 2017). The application missed this and the next scheduled meeting (25 January).
Significant material has been added to the Council’s planning portal in the last week, after the passing of the fifth in a series of consultation closure dates published by the Council, although RSRP are aware that many significant gaps remain in the planning material which were notified to the authority shortly after the application was published.
It is unclear how Council Officers, who are required to be independent when assessing Planning Applications, will respond to significant shortfalls in the information arising from the inability or unwillingness of the applicants to respond when producing their report to Committee Members. The report could theoretically include options to refuse, grant subject to conditions or unconditionally grant permission – anything other than mild conditions would lead to further delays in a project that it has taken the Council and its agents and partners over seven years to bring to this stage.
RSRP has made multiple representations throughout the application process and awaits the report of officers which will be based on a variety of information – published and unpublished. It is not known if the officer report (and any supporting material) will be published on the web portal or as supporting material for the meeting with the agenda. The Planning portal has yet to register the meeting date advised by Councillor Williams.
Spatial Planning Officers at HCC have verbally advised that representations can be made up to the date of any meeting, although it is likely that it will only be possible for officers to comment on last minute points verbally at the meeting. If you consider that new material requires comment, please make your representations now. At this stage RSRP would recommend making representations by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org alternatives are via the HCC website – where a series of questions and a 3900 character box is available for comments or by post:
Spatial Planning & Economy Unit
County Hall CHN216
RSRP’s Current Position
RSRP’s position is that having reviewed the evidence presented the underlying criticisms of the scheme are reinforced rather than addressed by the material presented at time of application and the additions since.
We will monitor the Council’s websites for the reports from Spatial Planning Officers and post a notification in our media when this does appear. Once it appears we will review its conclusions and plan our response accordingly. In the meantime we reiterate the core areas for concern below, including where new evidence gives further cause for concern.
Grounds for Objection
There are many causes for concern within the plan. In many instances the information provided in the Planning Application has heightened concerns. Key aspects are:
Green Belt Impact: The application requires release of Green Belt land. There is no Local Plan designation for the site that predetermines release, therefore any release has to meet ‘Very Special Circumstances’, under national planning policy guidelines which presume in favour of Green Belt retention. The Applicant is then required to demonstrate there is such a strong case that considerations outweigh standard Green Belt considerations including full and proper consideration of alternatives. The core objection is therefore this is inappropriate development of Green Belt on basis that better alternatives have not been properly considered.
Traffic and lack of Mitigation: The expected impact of traffic resulting from the school is a significant factor. Concerns have been expressed by a number of statutory consultees including strong reservations form District Town and parish councils. Concerns about the safety of suggested walk and cycle routes for children - effectively along the Lower Luton Road from Wheathampstead – do not appear to have been addressed. Instead the £6.5m identified in 2015 has been removed from HCC’s budget estimates and the application contains instead a series of minor mitigations which in many instances are likely to frustrate motorists and put pedestrians at greater risk.
Visual Impact: The application states it has considered the impact on the area from the worst affected views – it fails to define these areas and is filled with carefully taken obscure photos that ignore high visual impacts. In practice there are no views from the main vistas from Crabtree across the fields, no views from Milford Hill or Batford estate roads that look over the fields and bizarrely the report claims the view from the Lower Luton Road will be screened by retaining the hillside, while the building elevations portray a view from the Lower Luton Road that shows the main building obliterating the entire northern skyline. The development remains one which will create large areas of dug out land, and large areas of raised platform land.
Value for Money and associated risks: The school project was costed at between £53-65m when HCC’s consultants evaluated the project in 2015. This was about £20m more than DfE expect to fund and excluded land costs. In the supporting material the cost estimates have been reduced by between £8-10m – while a large part of this is removal of transport safety mitigation, it is also apparent that the design previously evaluated has been trimmed back – for example the parallel project in Croxley Green promoted by the council has nearly twice the on-site parking provision for same numbers of staff and pupils.
Drainage: Following criticism of the plans the applicants submitted further drainage proposals following the formal end of the consultation – these acknowledge the plans will see periodic overspill of water across the Lower Luton Road towards the ford but claim it is at an acceptable level.
Archaeology: Material published in early January includes a report from HCC’s own Historic built environment department, which highlights that despite their attempts to provide an acceptable preservation of the archaeological interests found in site investigations (interests that were contrary to expectations of the applicants expressed at their exhibitions), the applicants have twice failed to make adequate plans and have since indicated that they do not wish to discuss the preservation requirements further until a planning determination is made. In essence the Applicants appear to have decided to take a chance on conditions being imposed and that there is a greater chance of further mitigating these into lesser conditions during any development. With many nationally acknowledged experts rating preliminary finds as highly significant, and the discovery or archaeological material in nearly half the trial trenches on the site, the apparently cavalier attitude of the developers is both unacceptable in the context of the Archaeology and the development as a whole.
RSRP Update – 8 November
At present the Town Planning Application for the Katherine Warrington School remains open for Consultation. The process is being handled by Hertfordshire County Council, who are also listed as a joint applicant alongside Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA). The Agent handling the Application is Vincent & Gorbing Associates.
After many changes, including the removal of Site notices, the current closing date (for public consultation) is 16 November. Representations can be made via the HCC website – where a series of questions and a 3900 character box is available for comments. Alternatively you can make representations by e-mail to
email@example.com or by post:
Spatial Planning & Economy Unit
County Hall CHN216
The online form has some compulsory fields and you are recommended to include details that are requested in these. The key pieces of information are:
Name (title, first name, Surname); Address;
and an indication of one of the following about your representation:
Support the Application / Object to the Application / Have Concerns / No Comment
You have an option to include an email address for acknowledgement / response. At RSRP’s drop-in session in October a number of written entries were completed and these were delivered to HCC by RSRP during the following week. HCC have been acknowledging these forms.
RSRP’s Current Position
RSRP’s approach has continued to be one of reviewing evidence and assessing the requirements. We have continued this approach with the publication of material for the Application – based on our assessments of the wealth of published material, our position remains that the site is a wholly inappropriate site for a school as it does not serve the need on a local basis and as a result is not an appropriate solution. This is compounded by the unacceptable risks placed on local prospective pupils, which have been compounded by a failure to address safe travel mitigation measures for prospective pupils, and the associated adverse impacts on the community both in the immediate vicinity and across the wider area.
It is our view that far better alternatives exist to provide safer and most cost-effective education for pupils and that HCC’s continued delaying in addressing the issues is no reason for accepting a seriously flawed solution. It is seven years since HCC conceived its plan for the site, four years since it announced its intention and over two and a half years since it refused to discuss any aspect of its plan with those affected by it (until Planning).
Grounds for Objection
There are many causes for concern within the plan. In many instances the information provided in the Planning Application has heightened concerns. Key aspects are:
Green Belt Impact: The application requires release of Green Belt land. There is no Local Plan designation for the site that predetermines release, therefore any release has to meet ‘Very Special Circumstances’, for which the guidance comes from national planning policy which presumes in favour of Green Belt retention. The Applicant is then required to demonstrate there is such a strong case that considerations outweigh standard Green Belt. In this instance the case is wholly reliant on HCC’s prediction of long term need for school places – a system that HCC has acknowledged to be at fault in respect of localisation of need (see our submission to SADC for more detail). The VSC requirements include proper consideration of alternatives – HCC excluded the most sensible alternative – locating a school in or near Wheathampstead – in 2010, about the time the sale of the former school premises for housing development was taking place. The choice of the Batford site counters a number of Green Belt criteria, notably coalescence – the joining of two urban developments – and urban sprawl – particularly as HCC chose to not purchase land adjacent to the current developed boundary, requiring buildings to spread further into Green Belt and providing an argument for infill housing on what will become less purposeful green belt land. The core objection is therefore this is inappropriate development of Green Belt on basis that better alternatives have not been properly considered. (See our submission to SADC for more detail on the failings of HCC’s forecasting system).
Traffic and lack of Mitigation: The expected impact of traffic resulting from the school is a significant factor. HCC are responsible for producing supporting arguments for both expected traffic flows and for the mitigation measures to alleviate traffic related problems. In 2015 HCC’s consultants advised a £6.5m spend, which many experts considered minimal to counter expected large flows of traffic along the Lower Luton Road and every other rat-run that is likely to be adopted when the LLR congests. Pinch points were identified, many insurmountable, and this led to concerns about the safety of suggested walk and cycle routes for children - effectively along the Lower Luton Road from Wheathampstead – the alternatives being use of unlit, single track winding lanes to the north of the school or hidden tracks in the Lea Valley. The £6.5m identified in 2015 has been removed from HCC’s budget estimates – the application contains instead a series of minor mitigations which in many instances are likely to frustrate motorists and put pedestrians at greater risk. For example lights at Station Road / Lower Luton Road are planned to be removed and zebra crossing installed on a widened junction. The plan fails to address the use of Lea Valley and Crabtree / Marquis Lanes as drop off zones – other than by adding humps in road, while removing the roundabout at the Common Lane / Lower Luton Road junction is liable to recreate the safety problem the roundabout was first introduced to correct.
The greater problems with traffic however are likely to stem from the failure to address the need to widen the Lower Luton Road between Wheathampstead and Batford, and the failure to accurately predict the flows of school traffic. The school will be the ‘nearest in priority area’ for Wheathampstead, Kimpton, Whitwell yet only 1 in 3 Wheathampstead pupils are expected to attend the school (225 pupils of approx.650 applicants over seven years), raising the question of where are the rest expected to attend? And critically how do they travel. If every school in the area is in Harpenden Town it is estimated that up to 2,000 pupils a day will travel in to the Town as only 60% of applications in the area come Town.
Visual Impact: The application states it has considered the impact on the area from the worst affected views – it does not define these areas and is filled with carefully taken photos of small corners of the fields obscured by garages and house walls, or photos of narrow entrances to footpaths, rather than the views over the fields from the paths. In practice there are no views from the main vistas from Crabtree across the fields, no views from Milford Hill or Batford estate roads that look over the fields and bizarrely the report claims the view from the Lower Luton Road will be screened by retaining the hillside, while the building elevations portray a view from the Lower Luton Road that shows the main building obliterating the entire northern skyline (some 35 m above the level of the Common Lane / Lower Luton Road junction. The development remains one which will create large areas of dug out land, and large areas of raised platform land – notably in the Mackeyre End area where sports pitches require up to 20 ft. increase in the levels – and don’t be under any illusion on lighting – the initial plan may not contain pitch lighting, but Sport England have already called for the hilltop pitches to be illuminated for night time use. In essence this will be a highly visible development with major change in the form of the landscape – a change that is not compatible with former use nor does it blend with surrounds – it will be a stark contrast.
The view coming out of Batford estate from Milford Hill will be dominated by the stark wall of the Sports Hall – estimated to be more than twice the height of the current hedge line and, although proposals suggest retention of the tree line to partially screen this bland feature, HCC have chosen not to purchase that land so have little influence over its future use. The entrance – or entrance and exit to the school - will be situated on the Lower Luton Road – a road that is planned to be widened (on the hill) to provide a third lane for turning in and out, and to create visibility it will necessary to cut away more of the hillside so that the visible impact of the road will be substantially increased.
Value for Money and associated risks: The school project was costed at between £53-65m when HCC’s consultants evaluated the project in 2015. This was about £20m more than DfE expect to fund and excluded land costs. In the supporting material the cost estimates have been reduced by between £8-10m – while a large part of this is removal of transport safety mitigation, it is also apparent that the design previously evaluated did not have large earthworks near Mackerye End and now that a substantial plateau of earth, towering nearly 30m above the main floor of the school has been proposed there is no apparent increase in the retaining wall estimates – the same distance of wall is allowed for and the cost of creating and maintaining the plateaus in a stable and safe manner is a mere £1m. This appears like a further significant cost cutting exercise and begs the question of where else have costs been removed from the project, and at what risk to safety. Initial work undertaken by HCC / ESFA contractors suggested that 111 parking places would be provided (May 2017) – this has been cut to 97, barely enough for the full time staff count, increasing the likelihood of external parking and implicit risk to neighbours and nearby pedestrians and road users. In essence the choice of site is a very expensive one to develop and it appears there is a willingness to cut costs from the start.
In summary there are many areas of challenge – some of these are covered in more detail in RSRP’s submissions to the Section 10 Consultation (which closed in late October) and to SADC who are consultees in the process (see our main page to view or download). Wheathampstead Parish Council, despite not being included as a statutory consultee on a development that is partly in their parish, did complete an assessment in late October – Harpenden Town Council have deferred their consideration to a full Council meeting due 27 November and have sought dispensation for a late submission. St Albans are due to deliberate on the plans in the near future – RSRP think this is also likely to be on 27 November but as yet SADC has not published details of this and the opportunity for public involvement. RSRP recommends that if you feel strongly you continue to raise your objections with your local Town / Parish / District And particularly County Councillor as all such processes have the ability for Councillors to put forward your views. Most of the meetings are open to public attendance, and some are recorded or even broadcast live.At present we understand HCC are targeting the meeting of the Development Control Committee on 20 December to review – though this will not be confirmed until nearer the date. In the meantime RSRP has a number of challenges lodged with HCC concerning aspects of this application and contributory matters – we will update on progress of these and advise on our work to analyse in detail the planning application support material nearer to the closing date. We have raised the difficulty of being able to do so when significant documents are missing from the pack published by HCC and note that there has been a minor move in schedule (from 14 November to 16 November) to accommodate publication of some missing information.
Planning Application Launch – September 2017 (Summary)
Planning Application Overview – Events so far
The Planning Application to build a school on the fields at Batford Farm was finally launched earlier
this week. Worryingly this is already shaping up as the same shambolic way as the Section 10 launch.
What should have happened was a coordinated set of notifications, clear instructions and a full set
of supporting information available simultaneously. Instead Herts County Council placed the first
notification of the application on the Planning Portal of their website late on Tuesday 26 th stating
that consultation opened on 26 th September and would run to 31 st October. Katherine Warington
School followed the next day saying “The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), in partnership
with the Harpenden Secondary Education Trust (HSET), have submitted plans to Hertfordshire County
Council” – still no supporting information. Two days after launch HCC published supporting
information by then identifying the applicant as both HCC and “Hertfordshire County Council /
Educational Skills Funding Agency”.
At the same time County Councillor David Williams – remember the local councillor who was going
to keep everyone fully informed – circulated a note advising that the closing date for submissions
under the public consultation was 14 th November – closing dates 2, applicants 3. It took until
Saturday before written notifications - part of the legal requirements – began to arrive at properties
in the proximity of the site. No notice has yet been posted on the site perimeter.
The letters appear to confirm 14 th November, although webpage has yet to be updated (RSRP
understands this should happen soon).
The Planning process is generally a well prescribed process. There is no excuse for such a botched
start. Now a substantial document library has now been published the process begins in earnest.
The advisory letter to neighbours identifies three options to view the application and supporting
1. HCC website: www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/planning - follow search for application and enter
2. Make an appointment to view at the offices of Spatial Planning & Economy Unit of HCC –
this of course means a trip to Hertford as the office is at County Hall – call 01992 556266 to
3. Notice indicates that a third option MAY be possible – view the electronic copies at St Albans
District Council – Civic Centre in St Peter’s Street. As this is not confirmed at this stage we
suggest you ring the HCC number above to check what is required to arrange a viewing
The notification suggests any questions be directed to the same number or by email to
Planning – What happens next?
Four years after announcing intent to buy land, and seven years since HCC first drew up plans for the
site, there is finally an open consultation process–and anyone who considers they are potentially
affected by the proposals should take the opportunity to contribute by making representations.
For further guidance please see our full comments in the Downloads section of our website. RSRP
will be reviewing all the new material put forward and comparing it with previous HCC advisory
documents; where necessary expert opinion will be sought. This process will take a number of days
to complete and RSRP will make its analysis known through their website and other channels.
So far RSRP has not seen anything that suggests HCC has addressed the core concerns that have
existed with this proposal from the outset. RSRP has already noted that despite many prior
challenges, which HCC referred to the Planning Application process, HCC has chosen not to formally
advise RSRP of the Planning Application launch, a seemingly different policy to that adopted for
Review – Application and Notifications
Key points from our first review are below. Further details are in the downloads section.
In brief the Application, is, as would be expected, a summary document – it was dated 11 th
September 2017, which suggests HCC registered the submission on 12 th September 2017 as the
summary suggests. This begs the question of what happened in the intervening 2 weeks and if
submitted why the Trust chose not to divulge information at their Section 10 consultation evening.
The applicant status is ambiguous and the majority of the document refers to the supporting
documents – we will review these separately. For the present we would note that vehicle parking is
shown as for providing for 97 cars – not a higher number (111) quoted elsewhere. No provision is
quoted for buses to park on site. No residential units are included in the applications – the excluded
strip of land is not covered, but has been submitted in part to other local authorities for
consideration for housing development.
A notifications list has been produced and appended to the application – this identifies 829
addresses which are ‘local’ to the site and are understood to be expected to receive the notification
letter. The addresses listed appear to cover residences, businesses and other users in these areas:
- The eastern half of Batford (bounded by Pickford Hill and river Lea)
- The western half of Lea Valley estate (bounded by Castle Rise)
- A strip of land bounded by Station Road from Lower Luton Road, to the old railway bridge then along to far end of Marquis Lane (towards the sewage works)
Station Road, Pickford Hill and Castle Rise are among those treated this – so residents of Stephens
Court (former Pinneys site) qualify, residents of Balfour Court opposite (former Jarvis site) do not.
Large sections of Crabtree lane and roads leading off Crabtree and towards Station Road with direct
views to the site – are NOT included.
Given one of the greatest concerns with the development is traffic it is bizarre that in roads including
Castle Rise, Station Road and Pickford Hill HCC appear to consider the traffic effect will be less
depending on which side of the road you live! We could not find Batford Memorial Hall and
associated Scout HQ listed, despite the premises being in the middle of the zone.
Consultations Update – September 2017
STOP PRESS (27 September 2017):
As this article went for publication, notice of a Planning Application appeared on Herts
County Council’s website. It appeared late in the day (Tuesday 26 September).
As expected it confirms HCC is the Planning Authority that the Application has been made
to. It also confirms suspicions that the applicant is also HCC. This is contrary to many
other statements that the applicant would be the ESFA (Education Skills and Funding
Agency – previously EFA) as advised by HCC when it published a suite of reports it had
commissioned in 2015. It also declares that the Consultation started on 26 September.
Perhaps most remarkably, it has a ‘valid date’ of 12 th September and, to date, it is a
Consultation with no supporting documents to review as none have been published on the
HCC Planning Portal as of this morning (27 September). Similarly no notices have been
placed on or around the site, nor have neighbours received formal communication relating
to an Application (both requirements of such a process).
It is no surprise that HCC appear to be redefining new lows in how to disregard their
residents. RSRP will continue to monitor, analyse and report on how to challenge a
process that can only be described as wrong – in every aspect.
Last week saw HSET stage a ‘drop in’ session as part of the Section 10 Consultation process required
under the Academies Act to gain funding approval for the Katherine Warington School. Perhaps not
surprising that following the fiasco with distribution of leaflets and letters, many of the visitors were
less than impressed when they arrived, and, from reports received, learnt little from the event.
The Trust acknowledged difficulties with distribution and extended its deadline for responses to
October 25 th . However some immediate neighbours to the proposed school had not received any
formal communication when the consultation evening was held and were only able to attend
because RSRP and others had done the Trust’s job and informed them. We understand that further
leafleting has now taken place to those who have advised the Trust that they were omitted, but we
are still receiving reports of failing to communicate.
For those who did attend the greatest frustration was a complete lack of further information on how
the School would impact the community. One of the greatest concerns was transport for both
potential distant pupils and for residents in the locality. At the previous event when the Trust and its
partners (including HCC) tried to tell the community about the emerging plans, there was a big gap
in the Transport work. The information boards said the work was still to be done. HCC went further,
stating that the basis for that work – a Needs Assessment to be produced by HCC – did not exist and
that the previous one (issued alongside the Vincent & Gorbing reports in 2015) was now out of date.
So, despite no idea of where children would come from for the school (and its sister schools in the
Town) the Trust clearly feels able to ask for public approval in any event. Questions to various
people officiating on the night suggested that all pupils would be encouraged to walk or cycle to the
school, some officials going as far as to suggest there would be no buses.
The reality of the situation was best summed up by a comment from one Trust member who stated
that the Travel Plan will be submitted with the Planning Application and will, like the choice of site,
be largely HCC’s responsibility. That means that in this Section 10 consultation you are being asked
to either to recommend approval or rejection of a funding agreement – without full knowledge of
what is being asked for. Having seen the material presented at the consultation event RSRP is
therefore formally asking the Trust for more information. We are asking about the content of the
Trust’s proposals, the impact on the Community, and how the Trust proposes to account for the
gaps in the Consultation process. We are asking for specific information from the Trust via a short
series of questions, requesting responses that we will publish to enable completion/submission of
forms before the extended deadline. (Questions will be published on RSRP website shortly).
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the Consultation evening was the number of questions that
were referred to an imminent Planning Application. It is understood that despite having published
no further information on the many issues raised in the July events, the school’s promoters – ESFA
(DfE), HCC and the Trust – are to make a Planning Application by the end of September. At time of
writing (25 September), neither SADC nor HCC Planning Portals were showing any applications for
the site, nor have any legally required notices been posted on the site. However, it is likely that
these will appear shortly if there is to be any sort of chance of meeting the aspiration to have some
pupils on site by September 2018. When an application is made it will, of course, have to go through
the regulation processes of going out to consultation. For a development of this scale, this is
expected to be significantly longer than the usual minimum 21 days given for public comments. The
same guidelines will apply whether it is HCC who will hear what is, in effect, their own application or
whether, like the majority of new build Academies, it is the District Council (in this instance St
Albans) who hear the application. What is known is that HCC have placed a notice on the gate
(warning not to trespass on the land) stating they now own the land. Enquiries (via public domain
Freedom of Information Request) confirm that HCC purchased the land on 25 August 2017 –
seemingly forgetting their pledges not to purchase without Planning Consent.
RSRP has a substantial portfolio of evidence to mount a robust challenge to any planning application
for this site. Until an application is published, it is inappropriate to identify specific areas of
challenge, as the content and supporting material for the application is unknown. RSRP regret that
HCC have chosen to lock residents out and ignore their concerns, and that in doing so, HCC have
repeatedly turned down opportunities to consider better solutions (to the problem of ensuring
provision of school places where they are truly needed). What is apparent is that HCC are prepared
to go to considerable length to push this matter, and that will oblige anyone with legitimate grounds
to challenge to do so in a professional manner. There is, of course, a price tag for engaging
professional advisors, therefore now is the time to help RSRP with funding to make sure that the
best case is presented/the best solution emerges. RSRP website has details of how this can be done
or contact any of our Committee members.
RSRP will continue to post material on this site and through its facebook pages to keep people
informed on developments and how residents can challenge.
School Development - What's in store? - September 2017
In this update RSRP has included comments on
- the current position
- the recent pre-Planning exhibitions (held in July),
- other developments relating to the site
- the Section 10 Consultation,
- School Applications and Admissions,
- Planning Application, and
- Next steps
Plans to develop a fourth secondary school are now moving into a critical phase. Having adopted the name Katherine Warington School, the Trust behind the project are now moving into the first of the legally required consultations needed to gain approval to build and open a new school.
This first requirement is for the Trust to hold a Consultation as specified in Section 10 of the Academies Act. Responses to a Section 10 consultation are used by the Secretary of State for Education to give approval, or otherwise, to each new Free School project. It follows a series of events in July 2017 organised by the school promoters, aimed at giving insight to preparations for submission of a Planning Application. The promoters have said they intend to submit a Planning Application in Autumn this year and like any Planning Application, it also requires a formal public consultation (separate from any Section 10 Consultation).
Opening has already been deferred by agreement for one year. With Applications for pupil entry in September 2018 now open, the Trust cannot afford to delay and RSRP understands a Planning Application is likely to be made soon, possibly later this month. Expected key dates are as follows:
Monday 4 September Section 10 Academies Act Consultation opens
Monday 18 September ‘Meet the Trust’ event at Rothamsted (Section 10)
Est. late September Planning Application submission
Sept/Oct Planning Application Consultation *
Saturday 14 October Prospective Parents ‘Open Day’
Monday 16 October Section 10 Consultation closes
31 October 2017 2018 Application process (standard schedule) closes
Late 2017/early 2018 Planning Application Hearing*
Note (*) – the Planning Application process will depend on a number of factors: these include the Authority who receives the Application, the scale of application, etc. In practice there is generally a minimum of 21 days public consultation; the hearing date will be determined by scheduled meeting dates for the Authority and amount of work required for Officers to undertake expected consultation and assessments.
Exhibitions – what they contained
The exhibitions in July were billed as outlining the work to date on the preparation of a planning application. The content reinforced RSRP’s initial view that the exhibitions were premature as insufficient work had been done in respect of impact on the local community.
During the course of the 4 sessions, exhibitors, who came from all partners in the school build – EFA, Kier (lead contractor), HSET (the Trust) and HCC (Hertfordshire County Council) struggled to provide much insight into key topics, more often than not outlining work to be done. No long range views for landscape impact were provided, but it was explained that the intention was to retain all material on site – in essence digging out large areas of the slopes to create large flat areas in higher zones for sports pitches. The Contractors advised that the temporary accommodation – to be provided through adaptation of the proposed sports hall as classrooms for the initial intake – would be contained in a sectioned area that would allow earthworks to take place in parallel, with construction traffic using the proposed Lower Luton Road access during the main construction period. This would see a significant amount of movement of earth from the site of the main building, past the sports hall to proposed sports pitches at the northern end of the site.
Traffic and transport concerns were amplified by the lack of available information. Having declared that a transport assessment was yet to be undertaken (see previous RSRP article), HCC Officers at the exhibitions confirmed that the source information from which a transport assessment would be made had not been prepared. Previous information, prepared at the time of the 2015 Vincent & Gorbing site assessment reports, was considered to be ‘out of date’ and a revised Needs Assessment was to be prepared for the Transport Assessment.
In the meantime, planners have worked ‘blind’ with no knowledge of pupils’ origin, yet had:
- prepared an assessment of bus and car parking spaces,
- made proposals for separate entrance/exit on the blind hill section of Lower Luton Road
- planned removal of the roundabout (on current junction)
- proposed realignment of Lower Luton Road to create bus stop and access to a light-controlled crossing part-way up the (blind) hill.
No mitigation schemes were planned anywhere else: i.e. no change at Station Road/Lower Luton Road junction, no measures for Lower Luton Road pinch points between Batford and Wheathampstead, no mitigation for the likely cut-throughs, rat runs and drop-off areas. Many comments were made about likely impact at a number of locations, amplifying previously made comments, but it is unlikely that further information will be available until the Planning Application.
Some concerns remain about the exhibition organisation. Selectively leafleted to local residents as an Exhibition, without reference to the site, attendees may have been surprised to learn that they were part of public consultation. In RSRP’s view the events drew feedback but do not constitute consultation because feedback organisation was not on an open and equal basis to all interested parties. More importantly, the events openly declared that the work (that was being ‘consulted’ upon) had not, at that time, been undertaken yet.
The Exhibitions timing corresponded to further works commencing in the fields. At first sight these seemed more intrusive, but exhibitors were able to confirm these were investigative works relating to site Archaeology. These works continued beyond the exhibition timetable.
Archaeological Review is generally required in respect of major developments. Contractors will typically organise a variety of surveys. This usually includes random trench digging/examination, looking for evidence of items of archaeological interest. In the case of the Batford site, the exhibitors advised they were expecting specialist investigators to dig 75 initial trenches, randomly chosen, across the site. RSRP understands this is not untypical for this size of site. Further excavation would occur if there were findings warranting more investigation. However in the case of the Batford site there were previously registered reports (Herts Historical and Environmental Records) indicating evidence of significant archaeological potential. These came from surveys undertaken in 2015, followed up in 2016 and widely reported in local press.
There are duties on developers to have regard to archaeology on any site being developed – RSRP understands that these are, in the first instance, to check for potential and, if found, treat according to archaeological importance. For most sites this would mean care taken not to destroy in first instance, then to investigate, document and preserve according to importance. The level of preservation could range from ensuring that the archaeology is not disturbed by development and remains in situ, through removal and preservation elsewhere to, in very exceptional circumstances, safeguarding in situ. Developers generally seek to investigate and act on the archaeological aspect ahead of formal development as finding archaeology during the course of construction usually slows processes considerably.
Given the recent investigation, and other related archaeological discoveries in the vicinity, a number of exhibition visitors asked about the steps being taken, particularly in the areas already highlighted with potential. Surprisingly, no response identified any special investigation measures being taken in the areas where recent studies had highlighted potential. In practice responses ranged from the dismissive (with senior representatives of the project stating there was ‘no archaeology’ on site), through to promises of a report that would be damning of previous work and, perhaps most bizarre, a put-down from a senior trust member to the effect that the previous work was only that of a PhD student. That last comment was not what would be expected from the head of an educational institute that presumably seeks to promote academic excellence.
All the comments about Archaeology were made when the investigations had only just begun. Perhaps investigations were simply being talked down, perhaps over zealously, because they represented a consideration that they (Trust/Kier/EFA/HCC) didn’t want to make. Ironically, at the end of August, investigative archaeologists have returned to site and a statement issued by Herts County Council indicates this return is because of significant finds. This suggests that the Trust and promoters were more than hasty in their earlier conclusions and that there is confirmatory evidence for the previous 2015/2016 independent work.
The exhibition materials were published, as advertised, for a set period after the exhibitions concluded and those materials have now been removed from the school’s website.
In late August, in line with admissions policies published earlier, the school published an Application form for pupils wishing to enter the school from September 2018.
At the beginning of September 2017, Herts County Council’s school place forecasts were unchanged. These were published last summer, based on Schools Census information from January 2016 and continue to show a rapid decline in demand after 2022. RSRP’s analysis of school numbers were based these are the reports, along with allocation data for September 2017 (see earlier articles on this website).
Section 10 Consultation
The Section 10 consultation launches 4 September and runs for 6 weeks. Details are scheduled to be published on the school website (www.kwschool.co.uk), but it is known that a ‘public meeting’ to discuss the Trust’s proposals is planned by the Trust on Monday 18th September at Plaza, Rothamsted Research Centre from 4pm to 8pm. The format, and ticketing arrangements, if any, are unknown at this stage.
A small number of residents have received a direct mailshot about this consultation including a copy of the response form. The form suggests that an online version will be available for completion. In its printed form the obligatory consultation question is Q5 asking whether the Trust and the Secretary of State for Education should enter into a funding agreement. This is the required question and is presented as a Yes or No option.
At first viewing there is no option of submitting a qualified answer so RSRP are advising that if you intend responding you should first review the published back up information (when it becomes available), attend the Rothamsted meeting to clarify any points you are unsure of and/or send any questions you may have to the email address suggested to get clarification before responding.
If you have ANY doubts that cannot be resolved prior to the deadline, RSRP is currently recommending that you respond with a ‘No’ response and use the Comments section to identify your outstanding concerns – this is because the layout suggests that responses will only be counted as ‘yes or no’ to the key question.
RSRP will review the material supplied by the Trust and will analyse and comment further once more is known.
The Trust has indicated that it intends operating the school with a first intake in September 2018. In order to do so the Trust needs to have an application process in place and running in parallel with the standard admissions for the same academic year. As there is no guarantee of places being available, the Trust cannot use the standard application process so there is a separate application form which is supplementary to the standard 4 choices available on the County scheme.
In practice HCC Admissions are administering the scheme and it is RSRP understanding that parents who apply through both schemes may receive two offers. RSRP respects individual parents’ choice on school application but would recommend that prospective applicants undertake visits to ALL schools of interest and use these visits to address concerns they have about every school. We particularly recommend visiting the KW open day which is scheduled for Saturday 14th October (closing date for all applications is 31 October). We suggest that if genuinely interested you ask
- how the school will be organised in its first year,
- what facilities will be in use and
- what other work will be going on ‘around’ the temporary accommodation to prepare the school for the following year.
We also suggest that you get a clear understanding of arrangements should the school’s temporary facilities not be ready for September 2018 start. RSRP understand the schedule is very tight and it is unlikely that a planning application will have been heard by October 31, or that construction work will have started by 1 March 2018 (Allocation day) even if Planning is successful at first application. This is simply a consequence of the scale of the works and the time required for such projects.
As with any choice we would not recommend including an application to a school unless you wish, or at least are prepared for, your child to attend the school from September 2018.
The Trust has indicated that a Planning Application should be submitted in Autumn 2017. This is an obligatory process and brings with it a formal consultation process and an examination process. The nature and timing of elements of the process will vary with individual circumstances, but it is RSRP’s current understanding that the planning application will be submitted to Hertfordshire County Council and not to St Albans District Council. St Albans is the Local Planning Authority and would generally hear applications, however some types of application may go to County under certain conditions. Both parties are governed by the same legal conditions when considering Planning and therefore should treat any objections under the same rules.
The process requires more formal notification, such as Press notices, posted planning notices and mailing to directly affected neighbours. However the response time is potentially shorter than (say) a Section 10 consultation. Previous similar Free School projects have held their section 10 and taken feedback through to the Planning application. It is unlikely that there will be sufficient time to do this for Katherine Warington School. It is not known if any further events will be held either before or alongside a Planning Application to enable questions, or capture input from interested parties.
RSRP will analyse material that is put into the public domain and continue to provide relevant evidence-based work for residents and stakeholders to consider. In the immediate future we will follow developments with both Section 10 and any Town Planning Application. We will continue to question any aspect that has material bearing on this case, and seek to hold those in public office or spending public money accountable.
RSRP is increasingly concerned following the exhibitions and the collective effort the school’s promoters (EFA, HSET and HCC, along with their Contractors) to dismiss the presence of archaeology before their investigations had even begun. This replicates HCC approach when presenting the initial case. It suggests that the same ethos has been adopted by the Trust, who appear to be undertaking all the processing of the Section 10 Consultation responses.
School unveils outline Plans – Comments invited - July 2017
After a long wait, the potential secondary school proposer HSET (the Trust) has started to reveal plans for a potential Batford Farm development. In practice HSET is one of the school promotion group. Other members are ESFA (Education & Skills Funding Agency, successor to EFA) and Hertfordshire County Council (HCC). HCC’s role seems to have progressively changed from no involvement, to land provider, to (now) full development partner.
With limited notice, leaflets advertising exhibitions began to be delivered in late June. Exhibitions began on Monday 10 th July with more scheduled for Thursday 13 th (Batford Memorial Hall), Wednesday 19 th (Wheathampstead Memorial Hall) and Thursday 20 th (Redbourn Village Hall). Each event runs from 3.00pm to 8.30pm. Exhibition material was initially to be made available on the Trust’s website for one week after the final exhibition. This now appears to be extended to 2 weeks (to 3 rd August).
If you attend – and we encourage you to do so – you will receive a questionnaire that, like the website, advises you that you are part of a consultation.
So what is being asked? Two formal consultations are due under the Academies Act and Planning Regulations.This exercise is neither of these. When questioned, the Trust stated is seeking views which will be used as part of a Statement of Community Involvement to accompany a formal Planning Application. This Planning Application is expected to be lodged in September this year with Hertfordshire County Council (who has just openly declared their direct interest above) as Planning Authority.
The Exhibition subject is the emerging school (now called the Katherine Warington School) plans. It is meant to summarise work done so far and outline remaining work ahead of a Planning Application. Clearly a lot of effort has gone into what the school should contain for education purposes and you can live with a bit of PR gloss on the history. However, from the third (of 9) exhibition boards you find that much of the work is, at best, formative.
Board 3 identifies Kier Construction as the lead contractor, responsible for staging the exhibitions. From Board 3, the displays cover every aspect of how the potential development will affect the local and wider community. The areas with limited or no information include Green Belt impact; heritage impact, flood and surface water impact, landscape impact, visual impact and perhaps most critically traffic and transport impact.
On traffic and transport, a later display board says a TA (transport assessment) will take place, with scope agreed with Hertfordshire County Council (again) and a School Travel Plan will be submitted with the final application. Meanwhile, without any indication of where pupils will come from (see RSRP’s recent article for indications of this) there are only site plans to indicate the thought process so far. Those plans show separate entrance/exit, both directly from the Lower Luton Road (on the slope east of the Common Lane roundabout). A 79-space car park is expected to provide all parking including drop off.
Alignment of Lower Luton Road at the Common Lane junction appears to have changed, removing the roundabout. The road line appears to be moved towards the Farm fields to allow a footpath/cycle path to be established on the south side. There is a new pedestrian crossing part way up the hill. No information is available about any other changes in the surrounding area e.g. other Lower Luton Road pinch points, improved pathways from Wheathampstead, Station Road bridge, etc.
RSRP’s initial view is that seeking views and public opinion at this stage is premature. Work undertaken so far is insufficient for local residents to draw conclusions. It is pointless when no tangible proposals are on the table. The same applies to landscape where visitors are left to discover that large sections of the fields would be dug out and transported to make highly visible plateaus for sports pitches. These plateaus are so much higher than the base level that they require winding hillside paths to reach them. There are no visualisations of the transformed landscape that could help residents assess the impact on their perspective of the area. If you want to express any concerns, you should visit the exhibitions
The questionnaire: When you visit you will be given a questionnaire which has three main sections for written comments. Q1 starts with “if you support ... what do you like about the emerging plans”, Q2 “ if you have any concerns or do not support...” while Q3 asks for any ideas to improve. None of these addresses the lack of work undertaken in key areas affecting residents.
Your answer on any aspect you think is good may lead to your opinion being counted as supporting the school at HCC’s choice of site. You may wish to qualify your answer (by clearly stating that aspects you like do not mean you support every aspect or the site choice). You can put more comments in the ‘Any other comments’ box on the back of the questionnaire. If you do not consider sufficient work has been done on any aspect of the exhibited work please make this point and state that you consider this exercise cannot be taken as a consultation as it does not contain sufficient information to consult on.
You may also care to ask about or comment on the lack of consultation on the site choice/location and how it serves the communities in the area
RSRP will analyse material that is put into the public domain and continue to provide relevant evidence-based work for residents to consider. Our latest analysis of school place demand (now based on over a decade of data) is available both on our web site and Facebook, along with our latest newsletter. For those who have noticed activity in the fields this week we understand this is a blanket archaeological assessment being undertaken as part of site analysis (again not available for the exhibitions). We are not aware if it will include any focus on previously identified areas of potential archaeological interest.
Demand for School Places – Exploding the Myth [May 2017]
At the heart of the case for a new secondary school in Harpenden has been the assertion that there is a huge gap between places in Harpenden and need in Harpenden. The LEA - Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) - has forecast a period of rapid growth peaking at a projected need of 820 places per year, before settling permanently at 5 forms of entry more than the capacity of the existing 3 secondary schools (1). Capacity of the existing schools (Sir John Lawes, St Georges and Roundwood Park) is 572 and, in effect, HCC expect a minimum of 720 as the base going forward.
Four years of admissions have occurred since HCC brought its proposals for land acquisition forward and 10 years of admissions data is now published on HCC’s website(4). Data published includes accurate figures of how many applications are received by Town or Parish of residence – both for secondary and for junior, who become the core of secondary applications seven years later. Applications from Harpenden Town residents for the past decade have seen some increases, but these are moderate – an average of 10% higher in the second five year period (2013-17) compared to previous five years (2008-12). The average number of applicants from 2013 to 2017 was 422 per year from Harpenden Town – 150 (five forms of entry) less than the places available.
In practice applicants covers any applicant applying to HCC for a place – this includes those who apply for (and get) places in the two single sex schools in the ‘Priority Area’ – both of which (STAGS and Veralum) are located in St Albans. Similarly the figure includes those applying to HCC but ultimately taking a place in a private sector school. HCC do not publish figures showing where the allocations to each school reside, but via Freedom of Information requests made about data presented by HCC to a meeting in Harpenden in February 2016, RSRP learnt that following all iterations of the allocation process in 2015, the total number of Harpenden Town residents taking up places at the three secondary schools was 398 – a little under 70% of the available places.
HCC’s latest forecasts (2) identify a maximum demand in 2019 for which the Harpenden Town element is expected to be 455 (3), more than 120 places below the current provision. Going forward the applications for Primary places indicate what can be expected – in the chart below 2013 Primary School applicants are compared to 2012 and so on. As 2012 intake will form the basis of the 2019 Secondary transfers, the changes reflect the expected change going forward. In the chart the comparison is between Harpenden applications and the overall applications across the County – which are significantly different.
In practice 2017 saw the second substantial fall in Primary School applications in succession and the final two years (taken from HCC forecasts) show a continuation of this dramatic reduction. Essentially there is only one conclusion from this:
There is not, never has been, nor is there forecast to be more secondary applicants than current places in Harpenden Town
However the difficulties experienced by some parents in getting places in the three secondary schools were not imagined – HCC adopted an approach to school place planning and allocation many years ago that failed to give proper weight and balance to pupils who live outside Harpenden. HCC School Planning is organised by 22 Planning Areas across the County – one of these (Area 11) is the Harpenden Schools Planning Area, sometimes referred to the Harpenden Education Planning Area by HCC. It is effectively a horseshoe shaped area with Harpenden Town occupying the central section and areas to the East and West of the Town, both of which stretch northwards. Each of the outlying districts has one large village area – Whethampstead to the East and Redbourn to the West and further outlying areas with smaller villages and hamlets – Kimpton and Whitwell in ‘The Waldens’ to the North East, Flamstead and Markyate to the North West in ‘Hemel Rural North’. The recognised travel routes from each of the outlying areas to Harpenden lead through or close by the larger villages in the respective areas. While the sub areas are considered on a stand-alone basis for Primary School place planning, since the closure of secondary schools in both Wheathampstead and Redbourn, all area demand has been directed towards Harpenden. While the idea of concentrating the residual demand in the centre of an area may have some merit when the residual demand is small, it becomes illogical when there are large numbers of pupils expected to travel in on a daily basis – by the mid-2000s there were in excess of one third of pupils travelling in to Harpenden’s three schools, and as numbers rose the village requirements rose above 200 per annum and in HCC’s forecast for the new school over 320 pupils per annum were expected from outside Harpenden Town.
In practice the allocation rules have been highly influential in the fortunes of applicants for school places in Harpenden. Going into the build to the peak, places for children in the villages began to reduce as the underlying deciding factor in success of an application was distance from the school. St Georges originally ‘reserved’ places for qualifying applicants (Faith grounds) for pupils from the villages – however these were initially cut back to 20% (about half the proportion in the planning area) and then, in 2017, to a pure ‘distance from school’ criterion. The effect is not immediate as the rules do not affect Siblings, one of the two largest groups of applicants, in the same way. Generally Sibling entries – where a child qualifies for a place on the basis of an elder sibling attending the school – are amongst the top half of allocations. However the distance factor affects the next category of applicants and here distant applicants are progressively less successful – this has the effect of removing eldest children from these areas and thereby reducing the sibling numbers from the same areas in the years that follow. The situation has been aggravated by the success of Harpenden’s schools – making them attractive to applicants from outside the Planning Area and in turn opening up places to further Siblings. As the number pressures grew, the restriction on available places for local residents was greater than the numbers would have suggested, but ‘first-time’ applicants from out of area would be the first to fail to secure places and as the rings of exclusion progressively tightened, Harpenden Town applicants would be expected to achieve higher success levels with applications. This appears to be borne out in the measures of success used by HCC for allocations – % of applicants receiving a “ranked” or “non-ranked” allocation (ranked being one of the four choices a parent can make when applying for a secondary transfer).
Note: * Ranked figures exclude ring-fenced temporary places at Sandringham
Ring fenced places were initially introduced in 2015 for Wheathampstead residents, following 80% success in the largest of the villages. Under the scheme HCC asked Sandringham School to advance its plans for expansion and make 25 of the new places available to Wheathampstead applicants. This was repeated in 2016 and for 2017 HCC asked for the scheme to be extended by a further 30 places, split 15 for Wheathampstead and 15 for Harpenden Town. Other areas, such as Kimpton with substantially lower success rates were not included in the extended offer. Harpenden applicants were offered 8 of the available 15 places on Allocation Day, after continuing Interest rounds 4 places (0.9% of Harpenden applications) remain allocated to Harpenden pupils. With similar disproportionate success rates in previous years it is clear that:
The burden of any shortfalls in school places is borne by children in the Villages outside Harpenden and particularly to the East of the town in Wheathampstead, Kimpton and The Waldens
A key factor in the significantly poorer success rates for Village pupils in attaining allocations to Harpenden Town schools is the distance – the three schools operate under two slightly different sets of rules – St Georges, located slightly to the east of central Harpenden, draws pupils from the whole town, while the two standard Co-educational schools effectively give preference on the basis of the nearest to place of residence. This has the effect of creating a dividing line through the town, however it is not an equal division and Sir John Lawes is the nearest co-educational secondary school for a greater proportion of homes. The most obvious effect of this is that Roundwood Park is the ‘nearest’ such school for Redbourn and is generally able to accommodate applicants from Redbourn. The distance effect has been known to kick in for more distant applicants in Flamstead and Markyate to the west of Harpenden.
Under the current allocation rules a new village applicant looking to Harpenden’s three secondary schools will find they are further down the queue for places than all Harpenden residents for two of the three schools, and for the remaining school they will be behind a significant proportion of the Town’s applicants – more for eastern villages than western in the Harpenden Schools Planning Area. Adding a fourth school in Harpenden Town will exaggerate this effect as village applicants will be further down the queue for three of four schools and still be behind some Town residents for places at their ‘nearest’ school.
Is there sufficient demand in any of the villages for a school? Application data published by HCC indicates applications for Primary school places from residents of Wheathampstead has averaged over 100 for the past 5 years, while Kimpton and The Waldens – the villages furthest east of Harpenden – typically have 45-50 applicants. In essence the villages to the east of Harpenden Town produce around 5 Forms of Entry for senior transfer each year – sufficient for a sustainable secondary school located where the majority of the demand is – Wheathampstead. The villages to the west provide 120-130 applicants, but the physical location of the current co-educational schools is such that a significant number of pupils secure places at Roundwood Park on a regular basis (but are still behind all Harpenden residents for places at the other schools), therefore while each area would justify a local secondary school in the largest local village, the case for Wheathampstead is the stronger. With HCC’s plans exclusively limited to Harpenden Town pupils from villages to the east of the town will effectively be directed to the new proposed school but in doing so will form the overwhelming majority of attendees at the new school, involving longer travel with all its incumbent problems. However of greater concern is that as the total demand falls away – per HCC’s latest published forecasts – there will be significant excess capacity in the Town which is likely to result in one of the following:
· Short term recruitment of pupils from much further afield – from other HCC areas and out of County – with further travel issues in the short term and potential loss of places in future to siblings from remote pupils.
· Capacity reduction – managed reduction at all schools to maintain capacity for subsequent expansion
· Capacity reduction – removal of block of capacity on permanent basis.
Any of the above will have a detrimental effect on the position of applicants in the villages as all will result in some squeezing of capacity and, once again, the village applicants will be the first to experience any detrimental effect. The current HCC forecasts suggest an extended bulge in demand for around 5 years, on this basis there are grounds that establishing a school, possibly smaller than the HCC core model, located in the eastern Villages to serve the village needs would produce a sustainable solution that also addressed the inherent inequalities in the current allocation process.
Demand in Wheathampstead and The Waldens exists and is sufficient to make a school in the immediate locality justifiable and sustainable.
Throughout the formulation of plans for a potential new school HCC has referred to demand in the Planning Area as demand for Harpenden as though all demand was in the Town – to the point that groups briefed by HCC were talking of hundreds of Harpenden children being bussed across the county for schooling. This is, and always has been, a myth. In practice far from exporting pupils, Harpenden has for many years drawn pupils in – up to 40% of Secondary school pupils in the town travel in and far from addressing a localised shortage, HCC’s plans would lead to approximately 2 places for every Harpenden Town resident pupil if progressed. Perhaps more surprising is that Primary places in the Town, where expected pupil travel distances are lower, are also subject to excess provision – with 421 ‘Town’ applications for 2017, the available places number 517 – 22% more than local demand. However this year 468 allocations were made on Allocation Day and the extra capacity is split fairly evenly between out of Town applicants and spare capacity. Previously there have been well documented difficulties in getting places at the more popular schools, which, given there has been historic provision beyond the immediate local needs, suggest that the same demand profiles and the knock-on effects of Sibling preferences have been the main cause of local placement difficulties. However as indicated in HCC forecasts the demand is set to plummet in the coming years, further alleviating local concerns but potentially opening up to the next wave of more distant applicants.
In summary HCC, and other interest groups, have been happy for picture to be painted of massive permanent shortages of school places in Harpenden, which can only be addressed by continually increasing the number of places in the Town. However the direct consequence of this approach has been to create a level of over provision that has had catastrophic effects on both local and distant pupils, in turn sparking hysteria about subsequent ability to secure places. The knee jerk solutions proposed and implemented have served to accentuate problems and failed to address inherent inequalities in the allocation process. It is time
· to properly recognise the nature of need and align the provision of places to need
· to plan to sensibly meet the future fluctuations in demand in an even-handed manner
· to provide more equality of access to all pupils, by facilitating schools that allow continuity of entry
· to manage the full estate of education property to make best use of public funds
and this starts by dispelling the myth that for each school year there are over 700 pupils in Harpenden – there are 400-450 in Harpenden and the remaining 250-300 are in villages round Harpenden.
1 Minutes HCC Cabinet 13 September 2013 (Item 8 - Reasons for Decision)
2 HCC website ‘School Planning’ page (links to forecasts – Summer 2016-17 at time of writing – are in section headed ‘How we decide how many school places we need’
3 HCC estimated demand based on Primary School place occupancy in its Forecast of Pupil Places for Transport Appraisals (available on HCC website in New Schools section) produced in association with Site reports in February 2015 (managed by Vincent & Gorbing as commissioned by HCC) – the methodology used has been applied to current peak estimate. (Note – definitions were postcode based and include some areas outside Harpenden Town within Harpenden count)
4 HCC website ‘School Admissions – previous years’ statistics’ page (multiple reports available by year of entry)