Saturday, 20 April 2019

School’s move to playing fields goes to High Court

School’s move to playing fields goes to High Court

A LEGAL challenge has been mounted against plans to relocate a primary school in Caversham to playing fields.

The Heights Free School has been granted permission by Reading Borough Council to move from a temporary site in Gosbrook Road, Lower Caversham, to a new building on part of Mapledurham playing fields, off Upper Woodcote Road, Caversham Heights. But now the Mapledurham Playing Fields Action Group, which opposed the move, is to seek a judicial review of the decision at the High Court. The campaigners have raised £7,395 towards their legal costs. The case is due to be heard on November 20.

The action group argues that the school should not be allowed to use the land as it bequeathed to Reading by Charles Hewett in 1938 and set in trust for recreational use.

It 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.

In May, the group called on the Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary James Brokenshire to order an inquiry. The group had put forward an alternative proposal called Fit4All to enhance and operate all the facilities at the site without selling the land but this was rejected by the council.

At the time, campaign leader 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.”

A spokeswoman for the council said it would “defend its position robustly”.

The school has operated from temporary classrooms since it opened in 2014 and has had to expand several times to meet growing demand.

The temporary school will take pupils until August 2020 and the new school will cater for up to 350 children.

Five possible sites were included in a public consultation exercise carried out by the council before the playing fields emerged as the overwhelming favourite.

The school said the playing fields were the best option but some residents protested.

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

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