Tuesday, 09 August 2022

Overwhelming support from residents for school build

PLANS for a new primary school in Caversham Heights have received overwhelming public support.

Reading Borough Council carried out a 10-week public consultation on the choice of Mapledurham playing fields, off Woodcote Road, for the new Heights Primary School, which is currently based in temporary accommodation in Gosbrook Road.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency has said that it requires a125-year lease on 1.2 acres of the 25-acre site and in return will provide £1.36million to improve the leisure facilities there.

Of the 3,045 responses from residents of the parish of Mapledurham and the borough of Reading, 82 per cent agreed that investing the agency’s money would improve the site’s amenity value, even with the loss of open space to the school.

A second 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 results of the consultation will be considered by the council’s Mapledurham playing fields trustees sub-committee at a meeting on January 9. Other significant responses included:

• Eighty per cent supported considering only the agency’s proposal.

• Seventy-two per cent supported progressing discussions on the Fit4All proposal if the agency’s proposal was accepted.

• Eighty-four per cent supported the council, as trustees of the playing fields, imposing a legal restriction on the remainder of the land to prevent any more development.

Karen Edwards, the school’s headteacher, said: “The results demonstrate an overwhelming consensus — that 82 per cent of our community support the agency’s proposal to site our school on the playing fields and welcome the £1.36million investment in recreation it will bring.

“This clear result is in line with the findings from two previous public consultations and categorically confirms the immense support for the future of our school on the playing fields. We are now in our fourth year on our temporary site and the limitations of this arrangement present significant daily challenges for our whole school community, residents and St Anne’s School and Church, which remain incredibly supportive with the shared use of their field and car park.

“Despite all this, we remain a hugely happy and successful school, gaining an outstanding Ofsted rating earlier this year. We have no doubt that, given a permanent school building, we will continue to thrive and deliver a school for Caversham Heights with all the many benefits that it will bring for our community.

“We need to secure this as quickly as possible and have every faith that, given this overwhelming mandate, the trustees of Mapledurham playing fields will move forward with increased confidence and with a sense of urgency that respects this result.”

Opponents argue 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.

Martin Brommell, chairman of the Mapledurham Playing Fields Action Group and a trustee of the Mapledurham Playing Fields Foundation, said he had anticipated the result of the consultation, adding: “The school organised itself extremely well.”

He said the parents were “savvy” with social media, whereas his group was hampered by the fact the majority of its supporters in the area were elderly and did not use social media.

He also claimed that the consultation document was complex, adding: “The questions and the tick box options were so biased in favour of building on the playing field and what the council as trustee would like to spend the £1.36million on. It weighed heavily in favour of the school.”

A report to the sub-committee recommends a process and timetable to consider the options, including maintaining the status quo.

But the Charity Commission claims councillors are still not in a position to make a decision on granting a lease to the agency and more consideration should be given to all the options.

Mr Brommell said: “There is a stack of planning issues that they are yet to resolve. This is by no means a done deal. We’re not opposed to a school but this land is a trust site which is not council-owned.”

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