Monday, 15 August 2022

Campaigners call for public inquiry into relocation decision

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to stop the Heights Primary School relocating to playing fields have called for a public inquiry.

Reading Borough Council is supporting plans to build a new school on part of Mapledurham playing fields, off Upper Woodcote Road, Caversham Heights.

The school has been in temporary accommodation in Gosbrook Road, Lower Caversham, since it opened in September 2014.

The Mapledurham Playing Fields Action Group says the move should not be allowed as the land was bequeathed to the town by Charles Hewett in 1938 and set in trust for recreational use. Now it is calling on James Brokenshire, the new Communities Secretary, to order an inquiry.

Last month, the council’s planning committee recommended that permission be granted and a final decision is due to be made by the head of planning by May 30.

An alternative proposal called Fit4All to enhance and operate all the facilities without selling the land was rejected by the council.

The Education Funding Agency, a government body, has offered
£1.36 million 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.

The action group claims the council has contravened national planning guidelines, local planning policy and Sport England’s acceptance criteria and that the move would “devastate” recreational and social activities that take place on the playing fields.

Chairman Martin Brommell said: “If the plan goes ahead the situation will get far worse. The playing fields will be relandscaped, rendering the football pitches unusable for two years, with nowhere to accommodate Caversham Trents Football Club.

“The car park will be unusable at certain times of the day and restricted for the remainder, impacting all sports and many leisure users: there is a very large contingent of dog walkers many of whom come by car. The restoration of the pavilion will be even further delayed, so users will either have to drive or be driven to their groups and clubs.

“There are better options for the school, including land owned by the council. If this build goes ahead it will devastate sports groups, harm the environment and endanger the health of the community.”

Robin Bentham, chairman of the Warren and Districts Residents Association, said: “Our residents object to the school being built here because of the impact on the local people, increasing the traffic and pollution and resulting in the loss of previous green space. We want to retain our playing fields.”

A spokesman for the borough council said: "Members of the council’s planning applications committee have agreed in principle to grant planning permission for the development subject to a number of matters, namely, the application’s referral to the Secretary of State so that he can consider if he wishes to determine the application himself and the securing of planning obligations as set out in the committee report.

"If the Secretary of State does not “call in” the application and the planning obligations are secured, the head of planning development and regulatory services has delegated authority from the committee to issue the planning permission.

"In taking its decision, the committee took into consideration all relevant planning matters and listened carefully to the concerns of local residents.  Ultimately it is for the Secretary of State to determine if the application should be considered at a public inquiry."  

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