Furious parents have launched a petition over a school being told it must pay to use a public park it has accessed free for 50 years.

Rickmansworth Park JMI School uses the nearby site for sports activities, but Three Rivers District Council has said it must now pay “a nominal charge” to help with maintenance.

Tensions boiled over today (May 23) as headteacher Jane Linch told parents in a letter “we have now exhausted every other option and feel that hearing from the community itself is the only way to make Three Rivers listen”.

The local authority fired back with a 457-word response online claiming the school had “publicly, unfairly and with misinformation, attacked the council”.

Headteacher letter

In the letter, Miss Linch said: “For the past three years, Three Rivers have made it increasingly difficult for us to use this public space.

“This year, Three Rivers informed us that they will no longer cut the grass until the school signs a hire agreement and pays £7.90 each time we set foot on the field. This arrangement limits us to restricted hours of use.”

She said the school “strongly believes it is essential that we continue to have unrestricted access to this green space”, and claimed the view was shared by local councillors and the Herts County Council senior estates manager.

“As a compromise, we have offered to contribute to the grass cutting costs but this option has been rejected,” Miss Linch wrote. “Three Rivers insist that they will only agree to a per hour hire agreement to be renewed annually.”

Within hours, the petition demanding free usage garnered nearly 500 signatures, with parents calling the decision “shameful”, “disgraceful”, and “really terrible for the local children”.

One wrote on social media: “Seems shocking when sport is part of the curriculum, all we hear about is the importance of exercise, yet TRDC want to charge a local school which is part of their constituency. Madness and grossly unfair.”

TRDC response

Outlining the background, TRDC said it introduced a biodiversity initiative in 2022 that meant certain areas of the park's grass were cut less often, but “as a flexible and proactive local authority”, it agreed to amend the regime to suit the school’s regular sporting activities.

In its online statement, TRDC then pointed to its formal hire of grounds policy that is used when individuals and organisations – including charities, schools and private businesses – wish to have dedicated access to publicly funded grounds.

“It is under this policy that the specific arrangements requested by the school, being different from the normal day to day management of the site by the council, have been agreed, the council believed amicably, as they would be with any other user,” TRDC wrote.

“Rickmansworth Park is a public park, not a school playing field,” it continued. “The council is however content to permit the school to use the land providing the usual hire of grounds rules are followed.

“It is therefore surprising that, having willingly entered into this agreement, that the school has chosen to publicly, unfairly and with misinformation, attack the council.

“TRDC is not the local education authority – but it remains open and willing to help the school, however it cannot subsidise its sporting activities.”

A Hertfordshire County Council spokesperson said: “We are working closely with Rickmansworth Park JMI School and Three Rivers District Council to help resolve this matter.”