Sunday, 14 August 2022

School told to rethink fencing off public park

A SCHOOL has been told to rethink plans to fence off part of a recreation ground for exclusive use by its pupils to play in.

Residents are upset at the proposals by the Heights Primary School to use more than 2,000 sq m of Westfield Park, which is adjacent to its temporary site off Gosbrook Road in Lower Caversham.

Reading Borough Council’s planning committee decided last week to delay making a decision on the school’s application and asked it to come back with an alternative plan.

The free school 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.

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.

It proposed using 1.2m high timber or steel railings to segregate the park land during school hours.

There were more than 350 objections from residents who formed the Friends of Westfield Park.

Dr Alex Vugler, speaking on behalf of the group, told the committee that residents would lose use of public open space, which would be contrary to council policy.

“The annexation of Westfield Park represents a substantial proportion of useable green space,” he said. “This temporary free school is being pushed to full capacity on a site that doesn’t have the infrastructure to support it.”

Dr Vugler also raised concerns about congestion and parking problems.

He said: “If this application goes ahead an area of half a mile radius would host close to 1,000 pupils. Locals already report parents parking in residents’ bays and leaving engines running, which increases pollution levels.”

Nick Walden, the school’s chairman of governors, said: “We really do wish that we did not need to fence securely part of Westfield Park. We’re really sorry about the impact we have in an area we don’t directly serve. All we ever wished to do was to set up and run a mainstream primary school in an area without one.

“I’m afraid if you do not support these proposals today it becomes almost impossible for us to bridge the short gap until we move to our permanent home.”

Headteacher Karen Edwards said that from September there would be 275 children on the temporary site.

She added: “The outdoor space at our half-acre temporary site is extremely limited and we can only safely manage three classes of children playing together on it at any one time.

“Safeguarding the children is our highest priority and we need to access sufficient, safe, outdoor areas easily from the main school buildings without a busy road to cross.

“Regrettably, keeping children safe in this location in an unfenced outside area isn’t possible as it would require lots of extra staffing that we neither have available nor funds to provide.”

Mrs Edwards said the school’s would use the area 11.5 hours a week during term-time only and it would be available to the community at other times.

The school says the railings would be removed and the grass area reinstated when it does finally move.

After the meeting, Mrs Edwards said the school needed to discuss other options but said these were “very limited”.

The committee approved the school’s proposed extension on part of the St Anne’s site, which would take up 990 sq m of its playing field. Plans for the new school were all but approved earlier this year following a four-year campaign which divided the community.

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