Saturday, 20 August 2022

Playing fields school decision delayed

A DECISION on whether to allow a new school to be built on playing fields in Caversham has been deferred.

A DECISION on whether to allow a new school to be built on playing fields in Caversham has been deferred.

The Education Funding Agency has offered Reading Borough Council £1.36million for a section of Mapledurham playing fields, off Woodcote Road, as a permanent site for the Heights Primary School.

The agency wanted an answer by today (Friday), saying a decision was needed in principle so it could proceed with design work and compiling a planning application.

However, on Tuesday the council’s Heights Free School sub-committee only agreed that it was prepared to continue discussions and said it required more information.

The agency wants 2.696 acres of land in the north-west corner of the site even though the school would require only 1.231 acres.

It has promised not to build in a way that blocks access to the playing fields or sports pavilion but says it can’t give specific details because the layout of the school might need to change during the planning process.

The sub-committee said there was a “lack of clarity” within the proposal so it was being asked to make a decision without fully understanding the possible impact.

It said the agency should clarify the exact location “at the earliest opportunity” and consult the sub-committee before submitting a planning application.

The borough council, which is a trustee of the charity that looks after the site, would then commission an independent report on the implications of the proposal. It would also consult the public, the charity’s management committee and the Charity Commission.

The playing fields were the overwhelming choice out of five sites that went out to public consultation last year.

The agency says some of the purchase money, which it says is well in excess of the land’s value of £30,755, could be used to improve the fields while the school hall and multi-use games area would be open to the community.

But Fit4All, a campaign group made up of residents, clubs and groups who use the fields, says the sale would breach a covenant put in place when the land was gifted to the community for leisure purposes by Charles Hewett in 1938.

The group said it was compiling plans to enhance the site and urged the sub-committee to defer a decision until this was ready.

Chairman Gordon Watt said: “It resolves an immediate critical problem, namely the restoration of the pavilion, and relieves the council of a chronic problem, namely the upkeep of the playing fields.”

In a statement, the school said: “We are delighted that the trustees agreed to give further consideration to the offer and look forward to continuing discussions to demonstrate how the offer can deliver substantial investment and improvement to the amenity of the fields for everyone.”

The school has been based at a temporary site in Gosbrook Road, Lower Caversham, since it opened in 2014.

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