Wednesday, 10 August 2022

MP backs opponents of school fence plan

CAMPAIGNERS fighting plans to fence off part of a recreation ground for exclusive use by a school have received the support of their MP.

Residents are angry at the Heights Primary School’s proposals to use more than 2,000 sq m of the adjacent Westfield Park in Caversham for pupils to play in.

The free school, off Gosbrook Road, already has an arrangement with 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 growing.

Timber or steel railings would be used to segregate an area during school hours which the Friends of Westfield Park say would be the equivalent of eight tennis courts.

Reading Borough Council’s planning committee was being recommended to approve the plans at a meeting on Wednesday.

Reading East MP Matt Rodda wrote to the committee outlining his concerns and asking the council to find an alternative solution acceptable to both residents and the school.

He said: “I believe the application for the fence is completely out of keeping in the park and that it would cause significant problems for the local community.

“The application would, I believe, significantly harm residents’ ability to enjoy the park, which is a much-needed green space in a very densely populated area.

“At present there are sweeping views across the park, which is an open and attractive green space with trees and flowers around the edge and a large, grassy open space for children to play in and for other activities in the middle.

“The fence line would break this up and fundamentally change the appearance of the park.”

The school is being forced to expand in order to take pupils until August 2020 as it awaits a proposed move to a permanent site at Mapledurham playing fields in Caversham.

Plans for the new school were all but approved earlier this year following a four-year campaign which divided the community.

The school 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.

A report to the committee said: “The majority of objections received to this planning application relate to concerns for the loss of part of the Westfield Road recreation ground to school use.

“Residents and users of the recreation ground are understandably concerned about the impact this would have on the functionality of the park, whether the intensity is acceptable and whether it would revert to park use.

“The applicant advises that it is for recreational purposes by pupils at break and lunch times as well as some PE lessons for younger pupils.

“Fencing is essential, regrettably, to contain and safeguard pupils with the resources available to the school.

“The outside space on The Heights’ temporary site is too small to safely accommodate all the pupils at break and lunch times.

“The fenced area is for use by the school only within school hours for break times and lunch times. [It] will be fully accessible to the public outside of these hours.

“Officers confirm that the function of the park for general public enjoyment, use of paths, etc., will be able to continue during this temporary annexation of this area.

“In summary, while there is conflict with policies, officers consider that provided that there is full reinstatement in this case the harm caused due to the temporary loss of this area of the recreation ground is able to be outweighed by the significant need for the school to continue on this site for a continued temporary period.”

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