Green Belt deal for new Stortford school under fire
Green Belt land for a new Bishop's Stortford High School has been acquired - before this week's East Herts district plan examination even began.
Development at Bishop’s Stortford South is a key issue under consideration by independent inspector Christine Thorby.
She is set to look at the district council’s Green Belt site selection process in general on Wednesday (October 11) before turning her attention specifically to Bishop’s Stortford where 750 new homes are pencilled in on this long-protected land, hearing evidence on Tuesday, November 7.
Documents show Herts County Council’s cabinet believes the new is a critical part of providing enough pupil places for new homes in the south and elsewhere, proposed as part of the town’s growth to 2033.
A relocated and expanded Bishop’s Stortford High School would also release its London Road land for around 150 new homes.
This week the education authority was tight-lipped about its actions or the financial cost and referred questions about the purchase to the London Road secondary which has been leading negotiations, but a source told the Bishop’s Stortford Independent that a land deal had already been sealed in advance of Ms Thorby’s verdict.
The high has a long-held ambition to move to fields off Whittington Way and in 2011 it fought to overturn East Herts Council’s refusal of planning permission to set up a so-called super school with the Herts and Essex High School.
Residents who battled against the bid had to wait a year before the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, rejected the plans and confirmed the Green Belt should be protected.
The town’s civic federation led the opposition and its president John Rhodes said this week: “The civic federation had thought that defeating the ‘super schools’ appeal to develop part of the site would secure its protection as open space for the benefit and enjoyment of all.
“There is no justification now for developing the whole of the site, given the amount of housing the town will be absorbing elsewhere. Local people have made clear time and again that they want this site to stay undeveloped. The civic federation will be asking the Inspector to strike this proposal out of the plan. It is our last chance to save this Green Belt site for the whole community.”
Of the decision to press ahead, he said: “It remains to be seen whether this will turn out to have been a prudent use of public funds.”
However, Bishop’s Stortford High School head Dale Reeve said: “We continue to work closely with East Herts Council, Herts County Council and the Education and Skills Funding Agency, regarding the possibility of our relocation to the Bishop’s Stortford South site.
“Any purchase of land on that site would, of course, be subject to the approval of the land being released from the Green Belt and the necessary planning permission being granted. This remains an exciting prospect for our school and would help us to provide a fantastic new facility for our students.”
The high, judged outstanding by Ofsted, currently has around 1,135 pupils. If the move goes ahead, it could expand from a 6FE (form of entry) to 8FE – adding two new 30-student classes to its intake.
The acquisition of land at Whittington Way/Obrey Way/St James Way would also require an exchange of land affecting Thorley Hill Primary School. Part of its site would be needed for access to allow the existing Bishop’s Stortford High School playing fields to be redeveloped.
In return, the primary would get a mobile classroom to use for afterschool and breakfast club provision and refurbishment of its entrance.