Tuesday, 28 September 2021

A 10-WEEK public consultation on the future use of Mapledurham Playing Fields is being carried out by Reading Borough Council.

The Education Funding Agency has identified part of the site as its preferred location to build the new Heights Primary School, which is currently based in temporary accommodation in Gosbrook Road, Caversham.

The council, which is the trustee of the Recreation Ground Charity at Mapledurham, has received two separate proposals for the fields and launched a consultation last week.

The first, from the Education Funding Agency, provides £1.36 million in funding to improve leisure facilities on the playing fields. This forms part of the agency’s proposal to lease 1.231 acres of the 27.35-acre site to build the new school.

The second, is a proposal called “Fit4All”, put forward by the Mapledurham Playing Fields Foundation, which is against building a school on the land, and wants to lease the fields for fund-raising purposes and manage the grounds without any loss of open space.

Last December, the agency’s offer was reported to the Heights Sub-Committee, now the Mapledurham Playing Fields Trustees Sub-Committee.

The committee agreed that the agency’s proposal was, subject to contract, capable of being in the best interests of the charity. The same sub-committee also received the alternative proposal from the Mapledurham Playing Fields Foundation.

The purpose of the consultation is to seek residents’ views on four key issues. They are as follows:

l If the council were to grant a lease to the funding agency, how should it consider applying the premium of £1.36 million in funding in order best to enable the charity to use the playing fields for recreation?

l Is the grant of the lease to the funding agency likely to enhance the amenity value of the playing fields for the charity’s beneficiaries?

l Or should the sub-committee prefer the Fit4All proposal made by the Mapledurham Playing Fields Foundation?

l If the lease is granted to the funding agency, should the council as trustee take steps to impose a legal restriction on the remainder of the playing fields in order to ensure that it can only be used by the charity for recreational purposes in the future?

Parents of children at The Heights are urging the local community to support plans to site their school on the playing fields.

It opened its doors in September 2014 to provide a long-term solution to the increasingly desperate need for primary school places in West Caversham.

Last month, it was told it had been rated “outstanding” in every category by education watchdog Ofsted in its very first inspection.

Parent Rebecca Leach said: “We urge all residents to have their say in the upcoming consultation on the EFA’s proposal. As well as securing a permanent site for The Heights school, the proposal brings a significant investment of £1.36 million to be spent on Mapledurham Playing Fields.

“In the current climate, a cash investment of this kind from central Government is unheard of. It will completely transform the neglected facilities at the playing fields, bringing real recreational benefits for the whole community.”

Adrian Pattison, another parent, said: “I believe that a local school forges links in a community that are beneficial for all. The Heights school has already proved itself to be outstanding, and has at its heart a strong focus on community and charitable giving.

“Mapledurham Playing Fields are crying out for investment and the funding agency’s proposal will turn this under-used space into a real community hub.

“It is clear that the school is an incredible asset for everyone in Caversham Heights, and granting it a permanent home on the playing fields will reap rewards for generations to come.”

The school says that with each new intake its temporary site is rapidly running out of room and in order to continue to thrive it needs to move to a permanent in-catchment home. Two borough-wide consultations have found that more than 70 per cent of local residents back siting the school on the playing fields.

Martin Brommell, chairman of the Mapledurham Playing Fields Action Group and a trustee of the Mapledurham Playing Fields Foundation, said the action group had objected strongly, along with others, to the plans, as the school would take “10 per cent” of the field.

He added: “We believe the field is not the right place to site a school. The land was left in trust by Charles Hewett who was very clear that he wanted the land used for recreation, leisure and sport. Our plan would be to regenerate the playing field, market it properly and get a caretaker involved to look after the field and the pavilion.”

The closing date for the consultation is September 25 and the results will be reported back to a meeting of the Mapledurham Playing Fields Trustees Sub-Committee for consideration.

Details of both proposals can be found at www.reading.gov.uk/mapledurhamplayingfields and residents can have their say by following the same link.

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