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New homes on school playing field
Published 02/12/13

AT least 85 new homes could be built on a playing field at Gillotts School in Henley.

The academy school has offered up an 8.4 acre plot on the eastern edge of its estate as part of the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan.

The site, which is adjoined by a copse to the south and Blandy Road to the north, is used as a football and cricket pitch.

The figure was revealed in a presentation by architects Gerry Lytle Associates to a private meeting of one of the plan’s working groups on Wednesday.

It is based on South Oxfordshire District Council’s minimum proposed density of 25 per hectare, or about 2.5 acres. At the maximum density of 35, the figure would be 119.

The field was said to be “under-utilised”, “remote from the main building complex” and “of poor quality and capable of reprovision”.

Gillotts needs 3 million for improvements and selling the land could help raise this sum.

Gerry Lytle said the school would not be able to get all the money through other means, such as grants.

The architects said: “The school has suffered from a lack of funds to support essential maintenance... [its] buildings date from the Sixties and do not provide an inspirational, 21st century learning environment.

“The main entrance to the school, car parking, drop-off and servicing are not well configured, creating poor first impressions, operational problems and safety issues. Some of the school buildings require urgent improvement or replacement.

“In order to bring the school up to the standard we should expect for the 21st century, the school is developing a masterplan.

“In order to implement this, they will require a major capital injection beyond funds which can be obtained through the capital bidding process.

“Proceeds from the land sale would be required to be directly reinvested into the school estate to rejuvenate the facilities to the benefit of the local community as a whole.”

The field shares a boundary with another potential housing site on Drawback Hill, which is owned by Pat Hiscock of Lucy’s Farm in Gillotts Lane.

According to the district council, the 20.3-acre plot could take up to 103 homes.

Access to both sites would be via a copse off Blandy Road which the town council owns and has agreed to sell for this purpose.

In 2008, Gillotts planned a 30 million rebuild under a government investment programme but it was not included in the county council’s application for funding.

At the time, headteacher Catharine Darnton said the school was heading for a “catastrophic failure” due to the poor quality of its buildings, warning they were “actually going to fall down”.

Oxfordshire County Council, the education authority, later described many of the buildings as being in “a near state of failure, requiring significant expenditure”.

The school became an academy in January last year, meaning it is no longer under the control of the council.

In April, it received a 450,000 Government grant which funded a 300,000 refurbishment of its gym and a replacement roof for its design technology block. Last year, it was awarded 55,000 to upgrade its heating system.

Meanwhile, The Henley College says its Rotherfield campus in Paradise Road and Deanfield campus in Deanfield Avenue will not be sold for housing.

As the Henley Standard reported last week, both sites are listed as “suitable in principle” and “available” in a district council core strategy document published earlier this year.

Although the college discussed moving to a single site at Highlands Farm, off Greys Road, in 2008, principal Tom Espley said it no longer planned to relocate.

Mr Espley said: “The district council’s information is a bit out of date and that is certainly not the idea now.

“The likelihood of us being able to move to a single site in the next five to 10 years is very remote indeed. A new college would cost about 40 to 50 million to build.

“We are investing in improving our existing buildings because we do not see moving as a possibility.”

When the move was discussed five years ago, the combined value of the sites was estimated at 28 million.

* Last week, we reported that the former Wyevale Garden Centre is owned by Dairy Lane, a commercial arm of the Culden Faw estate in Hambleden. In fact, it is owned by an unrelated company called Dairy Lane which was set up by Aida Hersham, of Fawley Court, after she bought the site in 2009. We are happy to make this clear and apologise for any misunderstanding caused.

Published 02/12/13

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