Please help us to save the Lower Field

URGENT – Action needed before Friday 9 December

We promised to post our response to the County Council’s bombshell last Friday – and here it is.

Remember that the County Council can give itself planning permission for school building – so if they decide to retain the Lower Field as a school site and sell off the rest of the site for housing in Spring 2017, there may be no further opportunity to make the case

Please, please, contact Roma Mills (County Councillor) [Roma.Mills@hertfordshire.gov.uk] or Christopher Hayward (Chairman, Resources & Performance Cabinet Panel) [Christopher.Hayward@hertfordshire.gov.uk] and Richard Curthoys [Cllr.R Curthoys@stalbans.gov.uk] to make your views known before the Panel meeting on Friday morning

Here’s the Friends response to the report to the Resources & Performance Cabinet Panel.  You can read the Panel report here*

We are asking HCC not to market the land off Harpenden Road (“the Ariston Site”) until they have decided on the need for primary school sites because we believe that any school should go on the area currently covered by the fire and ambulance station; Pioneer; and Judo Club, not the Lower Field:

“It is disingenuous to describe this site simply as “being industrial premises prior to their acquisition and redevelopment by the County Council many years ago”. In fact, the site is surrounded by Bernards Heath which is a significant area of Registered Common Land in the north west of St Albans and which gives its name to the whole area (and the existing Bernards Heath Infants and Junior School). It has historic significance not only as part of the site of the second battle of St Albans, but also as the brick pits referred to in Dickens ‘Bleak House’. In the 1880’s, the citizens of St Albans wanted the tallow works, then situated at the top of George St, moved outside the city limits and Wiles and Lewis moved to the old brick pits site just outside the then boundaries to the city.

The footprint of the factory buildings covered the area subsequently developed for the fire station, Pioneer and judo club, but the Lower Field, now proposed as a potential school site (Appendix 2) has never been built on. Indeed as long ago as 1944 Wiles & Lewis entered into a management agreement with the City Council to “preserve the land as a community asset for uses such as pleasure gardens”. The area of the site to the north of Heathlands Drive was also never part of the factory but was used as a market garden and for the growing of orchids.

lower_field-etc

The Lower Field relative to other buildings on the Ariston site

The Friends of Bernards Heath (and its predecessor the Bernards Heath Village Green Preservation Society) has existed for sixteen years. Our Objects have always been “to protect all the open space at Bernards Heath (in which we include the Lower Field) from development or encroachment and to secure its use by the inhabitants of the neighbourhood.” We currently have 140 households in the community as members of the Friends, paying an annual membership fee of £10. You can see details of our activities and more about the history of the site on this website .

Although we were unable to achieve Village Green status for the Lower Field in 2001, we had many witnesses who had used the area freely for leisure activities for more than forty years. They were elderly at the time, and many have sadly since died, but the Lower Field continues to be used by the public for the full range of village green activities.

Against that background, the Friends have the following comments on the report:

  • The report acknowledges (para 5.6)* that more work is needed to ‘clarify the need for, and suitability of potential sites’ for additional primary school(s).
  • Schools should be built where a need for them is demonstrated – not where the County Council happens to have a site.
  • The County Council has been proposing the sale of the former Ariston site as surplus to its requirements at least since 2002, and it is inappropriate to market the rest of the site in early 2017 before that work is completed as that will limit the options available to HCC to provide any additional school places.
  • Nothing has changed since 2002 that reduces the need to retain the former playing field as open land and fully integrate it within the Heath.
  • What has changed since 2002 is the population of the area which has grown due to the development of infill housing sites increasing the importance of open space in this part of St Albans.
  • The population increase in St Albans along with changing demographics is putting pressure on schools in the city centre – specifically near Maple and Aboyne Lodge, but this area is well served – the Lower Heath is within less than half a mile of two primary schools, Bernards Heath and Garden Fields.
bh_schools

The broken white line shows the area under consideration, with the Lower Field less than half a mile from two primary schools, Bernards Heath and Garden Fields as well as Heathlands Special School. If the Lower Field is occupied by a school, at least half of the open recreational space in the area will be removed.

  • In that context, it makes no sense to say that the disposal of this site must proceed as envisaged in 2002, but the future of the Lower Field alone should be reconsidered. The Friends would urge HCC to retain the site pending the full consideration of the need for additional primary school(s).
  • If the need is established, then of course it should be met and the Friends would support that – but it would be better met on those previously developed areas of the site – ie the fire station, Pioneer and Judo Club (and possibly the old market garden) than on the previously undeveloped Lower Field.
  • The expanded Bernards Heath Junior School uses public open space immediately to the north of the school for its playing fields. Whilst this might not be ideal from the school’s perspective, it shows that it is a possible option – so that any school needed could be built on the previously developed areas of the site with joint use of the Lower Field by the school and as public open space as proposed in the 2002 proposal.
  • The report says (para 7.1)* that ‘since [2002], the adverse ground conditions have emerged and the playing fields use had to cease’. That is economical with the truth. The playing field use had to cease because poor restoration and overcharging of the site by HCC’s contractors to deal with two small areas of subsidence has replaced the former flat playing fields (which were in use for community football teams) with an undulating surface completely unsuited for such a purpose.
  • Since the report was written, the Secretary of State’s inspector has rejected the St Albans Strategic Local Plan (2011-31) – for the second time – following its examination in public.
  • The report talks about a ‘detailed design for improvement of the junction of Heathlands Drive with Harpenden Rd’ (para 5.1) *– but that was in the context of the 2002 proposals for the site. Anyone who currently uses Harpenden Rd, Beech Road and Batchwood Drive (and particularly the Ancient Briton junction) during school run times knows that these roads are already over capacity – yet this report offers the potential of an additional 420 pupil movements with no work having been carried out on the traffic impact.

 

In summary, the Friends of Bernards Heath request that no steps be taken to market the site off Harpenden Road until the future of the whole site can be reconsidered in the light of the conclusions of the further work on the St Albans Strategic Local Plan (2011-31) following its rejection by the Secretary of State, and HCC’s own work to clarify the need for, and suitability of any potential site options (para 5.6)* .

 

Posted in Ariston site, Education

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