Monday, 16 July 2018
PLANS for a new primary school in Caversham Heights have been all but approved.
Reading Borough Council’s planning committee has recommended that planning permission is granted for the Heights Primary School to be built on part of Mapledurham playing fields, off Upper Woodcote Road.
The final decision will be made by the council’s head of planning by May 30, subject to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid “calling in” the application for him to decide.
The next stage will be for the council, as trustees of the land, to approve the proposal.
This would effectively end years of wrangling over the free school, which opened in temporary premises off Gosbrook Road, Lower Caversham, in September 2014.
Headteacher Karen Edwards said: “We’re obviously very pleased as it’s another step closer to securing a permanent home after four to five years of searching.
“It has been a very difficult journey for parents because they have faced disappointment after disappointment and we’re careful not to promise anything but we want to make sure people feel confident in everything that happens and that we can provide a good education. It’s a solid step and the recognition that, actually, the need for school places is an absolute priority and without being able to find places for children that we’re educating at the Heights, and ones we want to take, there’s a massive crisis.
“The concern is whether some of our children will ever get to set foot in the school on a permanent site and that’s such a shame. They have invested so much and compromised in so many ways.”
The school says the playing fields land is the best option while nearby residents and campaigners say it is unsuitable.
Daniel Pagella, of the Heights Primary School Trust, whose two children attend the school, told the committee: “The school is needed, it is wanted and it is thriving.
“It is something the council should welcome with open arms and the community should be proud of for being able to provide.”
After the meeting, he said: “We’re obviously very pleased but we’re keen to keep moving the process forward — we desperately need a permanent home. It has been a very long journey and I think none of us expected that it would be this challenging.”
The Mapledurham Playing Fields Action Group called the committee’s decision an “insult” to the council’s local development framework and pointed out that “serious objections” had been raised by Sport England, the Football Foundation, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Fields in Trust along with more than 800 local residents.
In a statement, the group said it was not “anti-school”, adding: “We are simply anxious to protect the trust. We are pro-recreation, pro-community sports and pro-public green open spaces because of the known health benefits for the whole community.
“There are better options for the Heights School, including land owned by the council, rather than the playing fields which Reading Borough Council does not own.
“Existing primary schools desperately need additional funds and can be enlarged if necessary. That would be a much better use of taxpayers’ funds.”
The school was founded by a group of parents to help meet the shortage of primary school places in north Reading but the search for a permanent site has caused controversy. Out of about 40 suggestions, five sites were included in a public consultation exercise carried out by the council before the playing fields emerged as the overwhelming favourite with almost 70 per cent of the vote.
The Education Funding Agency, a government body, then offered £1.36million to improve leisure facilities on the playing fields in return for a lease on 1.2 acres of the 25-acre site for the school.
An alternative proposal called Fit4All was put forward by the Mapledurham Playing Fields Foundation, which doesn’t want the school built there and instead wants to lease the fields for fund-raising purposes.
The council carried out a 10-week public consultation on the choice of the fields.
More than 80 per cent of respondents supported the school’s plans and 84 per cent supported the council in imposing a legal restriction on the remainder of the land to prevent any more development.
Opponents have argued that the playing fields, which were left to the borough in trust by Charles Hewett to be used for recreation, leisure and sport, are not a suitable site for the school.
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