Beds, Herts & Bucks

Harpenden Free School "will open" despite planning delays

A new Hertfordshire free school will open this month, despite its planning application for temporary premises being delayed, its trust has said.

Harpenden Free School hoped council officers would agree in August that it could open in a converted barn.

But local objections mean it must now go to a St Albans Council planning committee on 10 September.

Trust chairman Adam Nichols said: "We are opening on the 17 September, but if not we have contingency plans."

In August, the Harpenden Free School Trust signed an agreement to acquire the former Victoria Road school site in Harpenden from Hertfordshire County Council.

It plans to renovate the Victorian school into a "state-of-the-art" primary school, to open in 2014.

Meanwhile, it wants to open temporarily in a converted 14th Century tithe barn, just outside Redbourn, which has passed an Ofsted inspection.

It submitted a change of use application on 4 July.

'Already suitable'

Mr Nichols said he was expecting a decision to be made next Monday, but if it was delayed, he was arranging to move into the Victoria Road site as it was designated "already suitable".

"We are looking into the possibility of moving into our permanent building for a short amount of time before the bulldozers move in to start the building work," he said.

"There is a building there that is suitable for our purposes as it was being used as a library and youth centre."

Laurence Moore, from St Albans Council, said it received the planning application on 4 July and an application "of this nature" would normally be considered within eight weeks, "assuming that all the relevant information has been supplied".

"We have just received two objections to the application which need further investigation - one on consultation and one on transportation," he said.

"We will try to come to a conclusion as quickly as possible once all the relevant information has been supplied."

Planning problems

The school is one of 55 new free schools due to open in England this month, but it is not the only one to face planning problems.

Bedford Free School has had its change of use planning application refused twice, but has said it will open as planned on 6 September.

Mr Nichols has called on the government to set up a land bank of sites so that those wanting to set up a free school know in advance if the building is available.

"Some sort of scheme needs to be in place where the government acquires suitable buildings as they become available," he said.

"People could then apply [to open schools] knowing that it was available, this would lead to a high degree of certainty and be quicker as well."

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