Cllr Tony Jackson
East Herts Council
|5 February 2007|
BISHOP’S STORTFORD SCHOOLS RELOCATION
I am writing on behalf of the Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation about the proposed relocation of two of our secondary schools to a Green Belt site in Whittington Way. The Federation brings together the Civic Society and all the active community and residents’ associations in the town into a partnership which represents over 6000 households.
The Chair of Governors of one of the schools has said that the sponsors of the proposal intend to submit an outline planning application early in the new year and so I suppose that we must expect that EHDC will receive one soon.
There is no disagreement that Bishop’s Stortford needs additional secondary school places. However, so far, neither the LEA nor the schools’ governing bodies have made any attempt to discuss with parents of current or prospective pupils or with the wider community the best way of satisfying this requirement. It is at least open to argument that providing a majority of secondary school places on a single site on the edge of town is undesirable in social and educational terms – the sponsors are contemplating a 3000 pupil campus.
However, the proposal only came to the attention of the public because of the late decision to try to amend the designation of the site at Whittington Way in the local plan. At the Inquiry into the local plan EHDC's representatives conceded that
Additional objections made at the inquiry to relocating the schools to Whittington Way included
The Inspector found these arguments compelling and proposes in her draft report to direct the Council not to alter the Green Belt designation of the site or to release the Hadham Road site for housing unless the need for school places can be met elsewhere. She did, however, leave open the possibility that in spite of the contents of the local plan, the schools could still submit a planning application for use of the Whittington Way site – a loophole which the schools apparently intend to exploit.
Determining the location of secondary education provision is a strategic issue which will have a profound effect on the physical and social fabric of the town for decades to come. As the Council has found with the Jackson Square development, once outline planning permission has been granted, it is difficult to make more than minor adjustments if the scheme turns out on detailed examination to be unacceptable. And a three minute slot for one objector to address the Development Control Committee is not an appropriate way of debating the merits of a major strategic issue such as school relocation.
You said before Christmas that nobody was currently responsible for a strategy for the future of Bishop’s Stortford, and that you were considering the establishment of a committee to fill this gap and guide the Council on the future development of the town. I am therefore writing to suggest to you that the committee needs to be established before it is overtaken by events, and that the provision of extra secondary school places is just the sort of issue which it should be considering. I hope therefore the Council will feel able to discourage the sponsors of the school relocation scheme from submitting an outline planning application before your proposed committee has had a chance to examine the proposal and the alternatives; and that you will refuse any planning application which is submitted prematurely.
I am sending a copy of this letter to the 'Herts and Essex Observer' in the hope that it might stimulate the public debate on this issue which the two schools have so far appeared to be anxious to avoid.JOHN RHODES