Saturday, 21 July 2018

"We must sell playing field to improve school"

SELLING a playing field for development is the only way to pay for improvements at Gillotts

SELLING a playing field for development is the only way to pay for improvements at Gillotts School in Henley, says the headteacher.

Catharine Darnton outlined the plans at a meeting of the town council’s neighbourhood planning governance committee on Friday.

The committee will decide whether to include the site in the final draft of the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan, which will name the 11 places where at least 450 homes will go by 2027.

The second draft includes the 8.4-acre field at the eastern edge of the academy school’s land off Gillotts Lane, which is said to be suitable for 85 homes.

Last month, the Department for Education gave permission for the land to be sold and Ms Darnton and governor Nicholas Walden told the committee this was the only way to fund improvements to the school.

She said Gillotts needed £14million for a new creative technology centre, hall and learning support centre and to refurbish the science and music blocks.

A floodlit multi-use games area would be built to replace the playing field, which she said was rarely used.

Ms Darnton said: “We’re incredibly lucky to have a site that’s considerably larger than a school would now be allocated.

“We’d be swapping land we don’t need for buildings we’d use all the time. Our students see the logic in that and support it.

“We aren’t a developer and if someone came to us with the money we’d be enthusiastic not to sell. However, it isn’t going to happen — at my last school it took us two years to raise £500,000 for a project.

“This is a really big moment for us and I don’t think such an opportunity will arise again.”

Mr Walden said: “It’s frankly absurd to suggest the money could be raised through fund-raising. It won’t come through Government grants either — good schools in affluent areas are not a priority.”

But Trevor Howell, of Blandy Road, who leads a group of residents opposed to the plans, said there were other options. He said the school should seek corporate sponsorship for individual aspects of the scheme and approach wealthy individuals in the area for support.

He said: “More than half of residents were against developing the field in the most recent consultation.

“I have been advancing an alternative funding strategy for 18 months. Most people say it is impossible to achieve but I think the whole community needs to take responsibility for this and work together.

“The school does deserve better buildings and Henley does deserve a better school.”

The draft plan was subject to a six-week pubic consultation that finished in March. The final draft will be independently examined by a planning inspector over the summer and will then go to a referendum.

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