Friday, 17 September 2021
The Heights Primary School in Caversham has opened at temporary premises while a suitable new location is found.
But there has been a series of hold-ups caused by arguments over the five possible sites, including one which was only added to the public consultation process last month.
As a result, the consultation run by Reading Borough Council has been put back, further delaying a final decision by the Education Funding Agency, a government body that is funding the school.
Four of the sites are in Caversham â?? High Ridge in Upper Warren Avenue, where a bungalow currently stands, Mapledurham playing fields, off Woodcote Road, Albert Road recreation ground and Bugs Bottom, off Hunters Chase.
The fifth site is Dysonâ??s Wood Farm, near Kidmore End, which is in South Oxfordshire and was only added to the list three weeks ago.
Residents have launched petitions opposing development at the four original sites and a fifth petition has been submitted in favour of building the school on the playing fields.
Headteacher Karen Edwards said: â??Lots of people have their reasons for not wanting the site in certain locations but the school needs to go somewhere, otherwise we are faced with the problem of children not being able to get into a school in their catchment area.
â??This was all borne out of a desperate need for school places.
â??With West Caversham being located near a river, city boundaries and green belt land, it has been really quite difficult to find even space for a temporary site let alone a permanent one.â?�
The school opened at temporary premises in Gosbrook Road in Lower Caversham â?? outside the schoolâ??s catchment area â?? in September with two reception classes and a year 1 class made up of 64 pupils. It will expand to include another two reception classes in September this year when the number of pupils will increase to 170.
Mrs Edwards said: â??We have managed really well with the space we have but next year will be more difficult as the school grows.
â??Parents made the decision to send their children here when there wasnâ??t even a temporary site.
â??I was standing up saying, â??we are going to have an amazing community school here, it just doesnâ??t exist yetâ??, so it was a huge leap of faith.
â??Now the parents are having to wait even longer, which is frustrating for everybody. They are managing incredibly well but it has been really challenging.
â??If it means we get the best possible site for the children and the community then itâ??s worth waiting for.â?�
Mrs Edwards, who used to be headteacher at Sacred Heart Primary School in Henley, believes the new school will have a positive impact on the area.
â??This is a community school and we want to work with all the different local groups when a decision is reached,â?� she said.
â??I think itâ??s quite easy to see the negatives without looking beyond that but we are looking to add and put back rather than take away.
â??We have got 64 gorgeous kids who are doing really well and making fantastic progress. Itâ??s a pleasure to work with the children, parents and staff.
â??We will work with whatever site is decided upon but we would like a resolution as soon as possible.â?�
Ruth Rosewell, a member of the Heights Primary Trust, which was set up by a group of parents, said it was â??disappointingâ?� that the fifth site had been added to the consultation process at such a late stage.
She said: â??This consultation is a great opportunity to understand the views of the community and weâ??re keen to see a thorough process being adopted, so it is important that all feasible options are considered. However, we remain very concerned about the impact of the delay on securing a new permanent home for the school.
â??The decision on a permanent site for the school has now been delayed again and we are mindful that appointing contractors, preparing designs, applying for planning permission and actually building the school will take some considerable time.
â??In the meantime, it is the children who are losing out.â?�
Mrs Rosewell said Dysonâ??s Wood Farm had been suggested to the Education Funding Agency more than 18 months ago.
She added: â??This site has some real benefits but we have many unanswered questions around the likelihood that planning consent can be secured and what impact being located in South Oxfordshire would have on vital services such as special educational needs support and funding.
â??As with all the sites, we are eager to see the full details released by the agency so we can continue to work towards securing a permanent home that the whole community can support.â?�
Last summer, the agency announced the school would be built at High Ridge.
Residents including Andrew Cumpsty, the former leader of the Conservatives on the borough council, Â protested.
They argued that the area was unsafe for children due to the lack of public transport and the fact that the road has no pavements in places.
The agency postponed building work for eight weeks to seek alternative sites before putting the whole project on hold due to the growing number of opposition groups at the potential sites.
Finally, it asked Reading Borough Council to compare the pros and cons of development at High Ridge with the three other original sites before adding the fifth.
Jo Lovelock, leader of the borough council, said: â??There has been weeks of planning going on around the four sites identified and suddenly with the consultation due to start they have dropped in this extra site, which has put it back. After all this to-ing and fro-ing over the past 18 months I canâ??t understand why it has happened so much at the last minute.
â??The residents who just want us to get on with this must be deeply frustrated at this last-minute addition.â?�
Rob Wilson, MP for East Reading, said all the sites should be â??properlyâ?� considered and consulted upon.
â??This was the conclusion and decision taken by the stakeholder meeting in January that involved all local groups plus Reading Borough Council and the agency,â?� he said.
â??An extension of a few weeks will not cause a delay in delivering the permanent location for the Heights. It is important to get this right with as wide support of the local community as possible.â?�
Although the agency will make the final decision, the council will decide on the planning application that is put forward. The council is a trustee of the playing fields, the Albert Road park and Bugs Bottom so has formed a consultation sub-committee to separate its two roles.
l What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley, RG9 1AD or email Â firstname.lastname@example.org
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