The Lower Heath – what’s happening now?

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The Lower Heath, with dark track showing the remains of the temporary access road (February 2017).

We were very grateful to everyone who contacted the press and their local Councillors when we got the shock news, only a week ahead of the Cabinet Panel meeting on 9 December, that Hertfordshire County Council (“HCC”) was going back on its previous decision in 2014 to support discussions with the District Council to transfer the Lower Heath to them.

We were delighted with the support we received from County Councillor Roma Mills and our three District Councillors (particularly Richard Curthoys), and good coverage from the Herts Advertiser – but not at all surprised that despite all that, the County Council Cabinet confirmed on December 12 that they would retain the Lower Heath as a potential two-form entry primary school site, and agreed to market the rest of its land off Harpenden Road (“the Ariston Site”) for housing in the Spring.

So what happens next? Well the fight goes on – the Lower Heath is so much a part of Bernards Heath, and Bernards Heath is right at the heart of our community, that we are committed to fight this decision.

HCC recognises that more work is needed to clarify the need for, and potential suitability of, sites for additional primary school places in central St Albans and it will report to the St Albans Planning Policy Committee meeting on 7 February – we will be watching the discussion and outcome.

You can read more detail in our FAQ’s [frequently asked questions] here, but please support us in the next steps which are –

  • Continue to write to the press, your local councillors, and the District Council planners to tell them why access to the Lower Heath is important to you. Their contact details are here.
  • Ensure that all the access points to the Lower Heath remain open – the temporary access road to Fontmell Close has been removed, but HCC says that the pedestrian access point to the Lower Heath by Heathlands School will remain closed.
  • Sign our petition calling on HCC to recognise the Lower Heath as Public Open Space in perpetuity. You can sign it soon.
  • Make sure all the candidates for the County Council and District Council elections in May have visited the Lower Heath, and understand the importance of the whole of Bernards Heath to our community. As soon as we know them, we will publish the candidates’ contact details on our website.
  • Encourage your friends and neighbours to join the Friends of Bernards Heath if they are not members already. Membership costs £10 per household per year, and 2017 subscriptions are due now – we have kept the membership fee steady for at least ten years

FAQ’s

What outcomes are the Friends of Bernards Heath seeking?

We want to see the Lower Heath protected as Public Open Space ‘in perpetuity’ for future generations to enjoy.

HCC first considered selling their land off Harpenden Road (“the Ariston Site”) in 1999 and held a public exhibition for proposed developments that included building on parts of the Lower Heath. The public outcry against this, led to the formation of ‘the Bernards Heath Village Green Preservation Society’. Unfortunately, we were ultimately unsuccessful in having the Lower Heath recognised as a village green – but the evidence we amassed was considered in the 2001 Development Brief which recommended that the Lower Heath should become Public Open Space “in perpetuity”.

In 2014 the HCC Cabinet supported “proposals currently under discussion for the potential transfer of the ownership of the entire former playing fields [ie the Lower Heath] to SADC (or its nominee), to enable the land to become open space as a planning obligation arising from planning permission for development of other parts of the surplus site”. We support that solution, and are dismayed that this is no longer HCC policy.

Where is the Lower Heath?

It is sometimes referred to as ‘the Lower Field’ or just as ‘the Playing Field’ or even ‘the Former Playing Field’ – but it is historically part of Bernards Heath. It is the area of land to the north of the Recreation Ground (“Upper Heath”) and behind the old fire station and Heathlands School.

aerial_view_lower_heath

Aerial view of the Lower Heath, enclosed by white broken line. The Recreation Ground (“Upper Heath”) lies to the bottom right of this area.

Who owns the Lower Heath?

It is owned by Hertfordshire County Council as part of their site sometimes referred to as ‘the Ariston Site’ and sometimes as ‘land off Harpenden Road’.

What is the legal status of the Lower Heath?

There are currently no public rights of access. The County Council allows ‘permissive access’. The Lower Heath is not included in the Registered Common which covers the surrounding woodland and the Upper Heath.

What are the plans for the Ariston Site?

The County Council confirmed in December 2016 that it will market the whole site in Spring 2017 for housing, with the exception of the Lower Heath, which it will retain as a potential 2 form entry primary school (ie for 460 pupils).

What about the Pioneer and the Judo Club?

We understand that the Judo Club will shortly move to part of the Batchwood Sports complex. The purchaser of the Ariston Site will be required to reprovide facilities for the Pioneer within the redeveloped site.

What are the planning policies that apply to the site?

The 2001 Development Brief for the whole of the Ariston Site was prepared by SADC in association the County Council and adopted by SADC on 2 October 2001.

The Development Brief (Clause 1.8) states that “the brief will be a material planning consideration in the determination of future planning applications. Its provisions will ultimately be incorporated into the District Local Plan Second Review”.

As SADC has not concluded this Review, the 2001 Planning Brief remains a material planning consideration.

Will HCC get planning permission from SADC to build a primary school on the Lower Heath if they decide to go ahead?

As the Local Education Authority, HCC can give itself planning permission for school building. It would consult SADC, but could ignore the District Council’s views and the Planning Brief.

How easy would it be for HCC to build a school on the Lower Field after the nearby sinkhole episode?

Following the appearance of the sinkhole, there have been very extensive ground surveys of the surrounding land, including the Lower Heath, and these are available to HCC and any prospective purchaser. This considerably reduces the previous uncertainty about the condition of the Lower Heath and would allow building on the land – probably with piled foundations. We believe this has led HCC to conclude that the Lower Heath has a development value that it previously did not think existed.

Won’t there be traffic problems on the Harpenden Road with a housing estate and two schools accessed by one cul-de-sac?

Yes. A two-form entry primary school could have up to 420 pupils, and a significant proportion would arrive and leave by car. HCC has so far given no indication of how they would deal with the additional traffic generated on Harpenden Road and the Stonecross and Ancient Briton junctions which already exceed capacity.

heathlands_drive

Looking north along Harpenden Road, with the only site access along Heathlands Drive to the right

Posted in Ariston site, Education, Fontmell

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