Concerns over Hitchin school expansion

PLANS to expand a primary school are expected to be approved by a council this week, but there are concerns that a consultation has been ignored.

An application was submitted to Herts County Council to build an extra classroom block at Hitchin’s Highover JMI School to accommodate an additional reception class.

It means that additional work may have to be done to accommodate an influx of pupils which could see the school double in seven years from 210 pupils to 420.

But rather than the application being considered by the Planning Committee, it will be approved by a council official.

Bob Wright, who lives nearby, used to sit on the PTA when his children were at the school more than 25 years ago.

He has claimed that by not going through a rigorous process, the public consultation has effectively been ignored. He also believes that many residents don’t fully understand the proposals due to lack of transparency.

“Local residents have been kept in the dark about exactly what the authority is planning, therefore the consultation exercise is a farce,” he said.

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“I am concerned that no decision in this matter should be taken without proper appraisal and without local people having the opportunity properly to appreciate, and to comment in full light of, the implications.

“I have seen no evidence that the authority has properly examined other possible means of meeting the identified shortfall in reception places. Nor is there evidence that the possibility of short-term solutions outside the school itself has been addressed.”

If approved, the new class would be in place from September 2012, meaning that there is potential for the school to have doubled in size by 2020.

A spokesman from the county council said: “The application was submitted in July 2011. We sent out 900 letters of consultation to neighbours plus letters to statutory consultees. We received one letter of objection and all other responses raised no objections.

“The county council has powers to delegate planning decisions to planning officers rather than councillors on the Development Control Committee, as is the case with this application. When making a decision, officers will take into account the comments made in response to the consultation. A decision is expected later this week.”

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