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Watford Town Community Free School plans for Lanchester building at West Herts College recommended for approval despite parking concerns
Plans to use turn an unused West Herts College building into a new primary school have been recommended for approval despite serious concerns being raised by police and traffic officials.
Planning officers have urged councillors should approve the scheme to turn the Lanchester building on the Hempstead Road site into the Watford Town Community Free School due to the "unprecedented demand" for school places.
The school places of 120 pupils hinges on the application, which will determine whether the new free school will be able to open in September.
The school was slated to take 60 new pupils, but will take an extra 60 from another new school being built in Ascot Road, which will not be ready in time for September.
However serious concerns have been raised about the lack of parking the scheme will provide and plans to reopen a path from the campus to the Cassiobury estate as the main entrance.
The proposals are also facing strong opposition from residents on the estate who say using Cassiobury Drive as the main drop-off point will create a dangerous situation on the cul-de-sac.
Watford Borough Council’s development control committee is due to vote on the plans this evening.
In a report to the committee, planning officials said the Lanchester building was constructed between Planning history 1938 and 1953 but had been vacant since the new college took over the Hempstead Road site in 2009.
It had since been earmarked to become a two form of entry primary school, eventually housing 420 pupils as part of a scheme to avert a looming primary school places shortage in the area.
As the building had already been used as a college building there is no planning issue with using it for another educational purpose.
However, the school has had to apply for planning permission to make extensions and alteration need for it to be a primary school.
The building is also locally listed and part of Civic Core Conservation Area, which includes the Grade II listed Little Cassiobury building that was part of the original Georgian estate.
The Grade II listed Little Cassiobury building
The report said that the school will not have a drop-off point in Hempstead Road and its main entrance will be via a currently disused footpath onto Cassiobury Drive, which will be reopened.
Officers proposed adding ‘no loading’ restrictions on the existing double yellow lines and ‘zig-zag’ school markings to the Cassiobury Drive as part of the scheme.
It said the West Herts Community Free Schools Trust, which is opening the school, will promote walking and cycling to ease congestion.
Hertfordshire County Council officers raised a number of concerns about the proposals including that the school was providing only nine parking spaces for its eventual 420 students and 45 staff members.
However the department said it did not want to its concerns to "restrict consent" for the plan and asked the school to submit a "Green Travel Plan" to ease the congestion it would cause.
Mike Sibley, Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Crime Prevention Design Advisor, also commented on the traffic issues saying: "There must also be some way of parents dropping children off to school and leaving the site."
Regarding plans to reopen the footpath to Cassiobury Drive, Mr Sibley added: "The college wanted the footpath opened up but accepted our arguments regarding permeability into the car park and the increased criminality risk to the properties backing on to the college grounds.
"I would certainly oppose any application to open this pathway."
Education officials from the county council also wrote to the committee saying the new school would provided new places in an part of the town that badly needed them.
They also provided a table that showed if no new primary places were found, there would be a shortage of 156 in Watford by September 2016.
Watford planners told councillors to consider the pressing need for more primary school places when balancing traffic issues and harm to the conservation area.
The report concluded: "Nevertheless, having regard to the unprecedented demand for primary school places in Watford, it is considered that the harm to these heritage assets is outweighed by the benefit of providing a new primary school on the site."
Today the education trust released a statement saying: "West Herts Community Free School Trust’s application to open the Watford Town and Ascot Road Community Free Schools was approved by the Secretary of State in June 2013.
"Ascot Road Community Free School has always been based on an opening in September 2014, whether it be in a temporary or permanent location. The project is therefore running on time and the school will open in September 2014. The new building will be ready for occupation in Spring 2015."
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