Fight for Knebworth school’s survival

A nursery school is being forced out of the building it has used for 19 years, prompting a bitter row between teachers and the landlord.

Stepping Stones Pre-School in Knebworth must leave its London Road site by the end of December after North Herts Homes served it with an eviction notice in October.

The social landlord wants to either sell or redevelop the large house and grounds which it has used primarily as a homeless hostel. The hostel was closed in October after tenants were transferred to a new building in Hitchin, leaving the school the remaining occupants.

But staff at the school which has 70 children said they were told in the summer they could stay until Easter and are now faced with finding emergency temporary accommodation until something more permanent can be found.

School committee chairman Ruth Burr said they have tried to get North Herts Homes to the table to find a solution, but without success.

“They don’t recognise us as tenants of the building. They don’t believe we have any legal right to be in the building,” she said. “We can stay put and risk any dirty tricks that North Herts Homes are prepared to play on us. Or look elsewhere. “We just want North Herts Homes to talk to us and allow us a managed exit. We would like to finish the academic year – and not disrupt the children.

“We have tried every official route to get them to talk to us. They haven’t responded.”

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The housing association said the school has a temporary lease with a one month notice period and was formally told as long ago as 2004 that the hostel would eventually be closed as part of a strategy to modernise its temporary accommodation for homeless people.

A spokesman said: “We wrote to Stepping Stone in July this year giving advance notice that we would not be extending the lease once the hostel had become redundant in the autumn, and served formal notice on Stepping Stone in a letter dated October 6 to vacate the hostel by the end of December.

“We have ensured that the management team has had as much notice as possible to make appropriate alternative arrangements.”

A proposal by the school committee to transfer the school temporarily to the pavilion on Knebworth Recreation Ground will be considered by the parish council tommorrow night (Wednesday).

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