BSCF's Comments on the Development of the Mill Site

Letter to Councillor Thake, Hertfordshire County Council

Hertfordshire County Council
County Hall
Pegs Lane
Hertford
SG13 8DQ
5 October 2010

Dear Cllr Thake

PROPOSED SCHOOLS RELOCATION TO WHITTINGTON WAY BISHOP'S STORTFORD

I am writing to you on behalf of the Bishop’s Stortford Civic Federation which represents all the active local residents associations covering over 6000 households.

We understand that the proposed relocation of two foundation secondary schools to Whittington Way has been under consideration by the County Council for at least seven years and that over the period up to April 2010 some £540,000 of tax payers’ money has been spent by the County Council in work on the scheme. No doubt a substantial additional sum has been spent since April. The plans first came to public attention in 2005 when, at your officers’ instigation, East Herts Council proposed the redesignation of part of this green belt site for educational use, and that a site acquired by the County Council many years ago for educational use at Hadham Road, not within the green belt, should be redesignated for housing.

These proposals were rejected by the independent Inspector, following the Examination in Public of the Local Plan and were therefore not included in the adopted version of the Local Plan. Since then, the proposed relocation scheme, first published in 2008 and again in a virtually identical form this year has been rejected

Most importantly of all, the plans have been emphatically rejected by the people of Bishop's Stortford, many of whom are parents with children at one or other of the schools or who hope their children will be able to go to them in future. At the time of the public exhibition in 2008, the only occasion on which the applicants, including your council, saw fit to consult the local community, the main questions on the applicants’ questionnaire were rejected by majorities of about two to one. The planning applications in 2008 attracted nearly 1000 letters of objection and nearly 4000 signatures on petitions of objection. This year the applications led to slightly more letters of objection and 3000 petition signatures. On both occasions the support the schemes attracted was negligible. Such a level of opposition to development proposals is unparalleled and experience suggests that for every person who wrote or signed a petition, many more would have shared those views, but did not commit them to print, perhaps in part because the timing of the applications covered the main school holiday period.

When the schemes were submitted for planning permission and then withdrawn in 2008, we wrote to your Director of Children, Schools and Families, Mr Harris, offering to work with him to develop a plan for dealing with the shortage of school places in Bishop's Stortford which would command the support of the local community. That offer, along with similar offers to the schools themselves, was never taken up but it remains open.

However, there would be no point in opening a dialogue, if, as is rumoured, the applicants intend to appeal against the democratically taken decision of East Herts Council. We understand that the education budget is under strain and that you intend to make substantial economies in schools transport provision – a decision which, incidentally, makes the proposed relocation to an inaccessible site on the wrong side of town even more inappropriate. The local community would not understand it if you were to choose this moment to waste even more public money lodging an appeal which would also hit the resources of East Herts Council who would have to pay to defend their decision.

We understand that the schools themselves have so far not contributed a penny to these proposals and would not be able to lodge an appeal without the financial backing of the County Council. We also understand that both schools have applied for academy status which, if successful, would remove them entirely from County Council control.

Therefore, if an appeal were made and was successful, it would mean that the County Council would be handing over the proceeds from the sale of its own site to two schools who have shown complete intransigence in refusing to re-examine their admissions policies with a view to tailoring them more closely to the needs of the local community. The County Council would then have to rely on the goodwill of two academies to which it had given a substantial asset, to meet its obligations to provide school places, whatever that might be in future, since it would no longer have the land on which to make provision itself.

Finally, we should point out that on the figures submitted by the applicants, the proposals show a deficit of £2m. By contrast, adjustment of school admissions policies would cost nothing at all and would protect neighbouring schools in Herts and Essex from having their talent creamed off by the self interested actions of these two schools.

I am therefore asking you in your capacity as cabinet member for education to

Our community has suffered years of blight as a result of these misconceived and unpopular plans and we now look to you to bring the uncertainty to an end.

The Civic Federation and our local communities would be pleased to work under your leadership and the consortium of local schools, to find the best solution to the potential shortage of school places for our local children. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss this matter further at your convenience.

Yours sincerely,

Richard F Hannah
Chairman, Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation