Saturday, 13 August 2022

Protests at school’s plan to fence off part of park

RESIDENTS are angry at plans to fence off part of a recreation ground so that it can be used exclusively by a school.

The Heights Primary School in Caversham wants to expand on its temporary site, off Gosbrook Road, and use more than 2,000 sq m of the adjacent Westfield Park for pupils to play in.

Timber or steel railings would be used to segregate the area during school hours.

The free school already has an arrangement with the neighbouring St Anne’s Primary School to use part of its playing field for informal play at lunch times and break times but this is no longer enough as the school roll is increasing.

The Heights is being forced to expand in order to take pupils until August 2020 as it awaits a proposed move to a permanent site in Caversham Heights.

It says the railings will be removed and the grass area fully reinstated when it does finally move.

The proposed extension involves building a two-storey, six classroom modular unit on part of the St Anne’s site, which would take up 990 sq m of its playing field.

The newly formed Friends of Westfield Park says the area to be fenced off would be the equivalent of eight tennis courts.

The group said: “As well as preventing the general public from using this area during school hours, the plans risk dividing the community and contravene [Reading Borough] Council’s own open spaces strategy to safeguard valued urban green spaces.”

The group is inviting residents to a community picnic in the area tomorrow (Saturday) from noon to 2pm.

More than 80 people have formally objected to the planning application.

Laurence Brazil, of South View Avenue, said: “I strongly object to this proposed annexation of Westfield Park. This a local space for local children and dog walkers and I believe this will impact the beauty of the space.”

Annette Mcquade, of The Ridgeway, said: “I do not agree that the school can take the majority of the park for its own use. It is a well-used park for children after school and for local residents.”

Gary Welch, of Hemdean Road, said: “A far more sensible solution/compromise would be to use the area opposite the flats in Gosbrook Road and install a much-needed zebra crossing to get there.

“This way the whole community benefits and not just the pupils of The Heights.”

Clodagh Walsh, of Fairfax Close, said: “My son regularly plays football in the area concerned. Cordoning off this area would mean that he would either be pushed to play in a smaller area closer to the busy roads or put off using the park altogether.

“While I have no issues with the use of the park as a play area for any of the local schools, I feel that sectioning it would mean losing its unique and beautiful character.”

Andrew Morris, of Peppard Hill, said: “This continual desire to fence off public playing fields for the sole use of one small community must be resisted.

“This is the thin end of the wedge as more and more recreation areas are lost to development. The land should remain free and open for use by all people in Caversham and surrounding areas.”

Martine Browne, of Denbeigh Place, said: “This park is enjoyed by families of pre-school age children who use it for social activities within school hours.”

Megan Satterley, of St Anne’s Road, said: “Would it not be better for the Heights to share the facilities of St Anne’s Primary School?

“Westfield Park is heavily used by lots of children who do not go to the Heights. The park is a good size — please don’t carve it up.”

The Heights is having to expand due to the lengthy saga over its proposed move to a permanent home at Mapledurham playing fields in Caversham Heights. Plans for the new school were all but approved last month following a four-year campaign which divided the community.

Headteacher Karen Edwards said: “Although we are acutely aware of the impact on our neighbours of expanding the school on our temporary site, with the support of Reading Borough Council we have had to make difficult decisions based on practical solutions to keep our school functioning safely.

“We regret that this is required and will do everything we can to minimise our use of Westfield Park to school hours only for the short time until we are able to move to our permanent home in our catchment area.

“We thank the local community for their continued understanding of this truly difficult situation.”

The council said the proposed extension would be subject to conditions including that the school’s use of the area of Westfield Park would be restricted to 25 minutes for a mid-morning break and an hour for lunchtime play. It would also be used for a two-hour PE lesson on Mondays and Wednesdays.

A spokesman said: “The area would be fully accessible to the public as usual outside these hours and no footpaths through the park would be affected.

“The school is at full capacity and this temporary arrangement is a practical solution which will enable it to continue to function safely and accommodate the intake of new children for up to another two years.”

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