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Failure to open Harperbury Free School in Radlett could be 'politically toxic' says MP Ann Main
An MP has warned delaying the opening of a free school until September 2015 could be “politically toxic” for the Government.
Parents, teachers and local MPs met at Shenley Chapel in Shenley Park last night to discuss the way forward for Harperbury Free School after the Department of Education failed to find it a site.
Governors had set their sights on opening in a corner of the former Harperbury Hospital site off Harpers Lane in Radlett, which they thought would be “ideal” for the “modern” new school.
However correspondence they had received from school’s minister Lord Nash said this site was “potentially too expensive”.
He had identified another site in Radlett, a warehouse complex called Parkbury, separated from its playing field by the A5183 and next to the train line into Kings Cross, which the school decided was “unsafe” for their children.
MP for St Albans Ann Main said she had received a letter from school’s minister Lord Nash that implied the school was being “fussy” in refusing the site.
In the letter, Lord Nash said the Education Funding Agency had identified the second site as being “value for money” but that the trust had “refused it”.
Governor Nick Eaves said Lord Nash had implied by the tone of his letter they were “picky” parents from “prosperous” Hertfordshire who had refused the Parkbury site because it was not “leafy” enough.
He said: “At the moment it is all smoke and mirrors. We want to build a school that will benefit children for the next 20 to 50 years.
“The Harperbury site is going to be used for housing and we thought we were being sensible in putting the infrastructure in place first, and raising the value of these houses too by having a “good school” on the site.”
Dissolusioned parents said the Department of Health, which owns Harperbury Hospital, seems more interested in the money it could make from more "profitable" houses.
In his letter to Mrs Main, Lord Nash implied the Parkbury site could be used as a temporary option, which would become permanent if no other site was found.
Mr Eaves described this option as a “chink of light”, giving hope the school could be open in time for this September.
However chairman of governors Clive Glover said this option might be a “trap” and the EFA would make no effort to find an alternative permanent site, leaving it trapped on the “dangerous” patch of land.
The governors are set to meet Michael Gove next week, who has promised to take on the issue of finding the school a site himself.
Mrs Main said: “I don’t think Lord Nash knows what he is talking about. This situation is politically toxic for the Government.
“The Department of Education has waited to the 59th minute of the 11th hour to admit their failure to find a site, which is not acceptable.
"People of all parties think free schools are a good idea. If the Government does not manage to open this free school, people will lose faith in the idea entirely.”