Furious parents protested at a primary school on Saturday after learning a substantial part of a school field had been sold to the village’s parish council chairman.

The head teacher at Shenley Primary School, Kate Fiddler, revealed to parents on Friday in a newsletter that she had been told the school would be losing a part of its field - which is home to a well-used outdoor learning space and a community fundraised sculpture - but the letter did not say why.

On Facebook on Friday night, posts revealed that the Shenley Parish Council chairman, Cllr William Susman had bought the land, alongside a neighbour.

There was immediate anger shared by parents on Facebook and they demanded more clarity and answers from Cllr Susman.

A petition to ‘save Shenley school field’ was also immediately set up.

On Saturday morning, there was a call for people to get down to the school and demonstrate after someone saw contractors working on putting up a fence around the newly purchased land.

Parents and school governors, including the chairman Jamie Stockwell, marched down to the school in an attempt to halt the fence building work, as well as voice their displeasure at the sale of land.

They held placards and posters and demonstrated both in London Road and by the land in question.

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Schoolchildren hold up a banner which says 'Save our field'. Credit: Simon Jacobs

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A protester holds a sign referring to the notice the school said they had - but this notice period has been disputed by Cllr Susman

Some parents jeered and called for Cllr Susman’s resignation, and a chant of ‘shame on you’ was echoed as Cllr Susman emerged from his home and spoke with school governors.

Others screamed ‘immoral’ and ‘greedy’.

Cllr Susman later faced angry parents and opposition councillors.

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How did this sale come about?

The land in question was privately owned by a lady called Maureen Taylor.

Hertfordshire County Council has been leasing the land from Ms Taylor since the late 1990's but this lease came to an end on May 4 2019.

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According to correspondence which Cllr Susman made publicly available on Sunday morning, the county council were in talks last yeat with the owner's grandson, James Foster, leading the negotiations, to renew the lease.

With negotiations ongoing with the council, a letter from Mr Foster shows him approaching Cllr Susman and telling him about the opportunity to purchase the land in July 2019.

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Cllr Susman has publicly shared this letter sent by James Foster in July 2019

Cllr Susman lives in a house directly behind the land - at the end of Monarch Road.

A purchase was agreed between Cllr Susman, his neighbour Nikolai Levey, and Mr Foster in September 2019, emails show.

In November 2019, via the council's agents, Carter Jonas, Cllr Susman found out the council wanted to retain the school field land, so suggested that the council leases 50 per cent of the land that he would buy.

In a meeting in December, Cllr Susman says the Carter Jonas representative "made it clear that due to the fact that the school was under-provisioned for playing field space they would not be prepared to accept anything less than the whole piece of land".

In February the sale was completed to Cllr Susman and his neighbour, Nikolai Levey, for an unknown amount of money.

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Cllr William Susman on his land yesterday, which was previously leased to the county council. His and Mr Levey's homes are in the background. Credit: Simon Jacobs

Cllr Susman says since the purchase, he offered to lease 50 per cent of the land in question back to the county council, free of charge, but email chains show the council were still only interested in keeping the land in full.

With negotiations breaking down this month, contractors were booked to build a fence around the newly purchased land.

Cllr Susman says in light of protests yesterday and discussions woth governors, this offer for 50 per cent is now back on the table.

Cllr Susman says the intention for the land is for a garden and there are "no plans or desires to build on it".

The head teacher at Shenley Primary said in her newsletter she found out a couple of weeks ago about the sale, and governors have said they found out at the beginning of the week.

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This newsletter was sent out on Friday to parents

However, in the official statement released by Cllr Susman on Sunday morning, he said both the school and council have known about plans to fence off the land since May 5.

School governors have raised questions.

Samantha Davis says she backed the protests at the school ‘100 per cent’, and before the discussion with Cllr Susman outside his home, told the Times she wanted “transparency” from those involved in the sale.

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Samantha Davis protesting yesterday

She also called for Cllr Susman and his wife, Natalie, who is also a parish councillor, to step down if the fence is built “because they are not representing their community”.

Why is this land so important to schoolchildren?

The land that has been sold is roughly a third of the school field and is home to an incredibly well-used outdoor learning space and a ‘Wildwood Den’ - a community fundraised project.

The den, which opened in 2015, involves tree stumps and logs which pupils can climb on and also learn from as they are etched with local historic facts.

The stumps are buried into the ground and the whole project cost thousands of pounds.

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This is the land in question. On the left is an outdoor learning area, a 'Wildwood den' is top left. The land is perhaps a third of the whole school field and runs up to behind the trees pictured. Credit: Simon Jacobs.

Mary Evans, who was among those leading the protests yesterday, played a pivotal role in the fundraising as she was secretary of the Parents and Teachers Association.

Ms Evans, who has two children at the school, said: “This was paid for by the community. And when it was completed, we sent out thank you cards to everyone who contributed including all of the local businesses.

“When I found out about this land sale, I was devastated, especially after all the hard work put into it.”

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The land is also home to a ‘forest school’ - an outdoor learning space used weekly by every year group and we’re told a highlight of the pupils’ curriculum.

Mandy Irvin, a teaching assistant at the school, has been teaching pupils at the forest school for two-and-a-half years.

She said: “The kids love this outdoor garden. It is their outdoor learning and helps improve the emotional wellbeing and physical development.

“I hope something can be sorted. I was devastated when I found out what had happened.”

The forest garden equipment has been moved to the other side of the school field.

Parents rally to ‘save school field’

The news of this land sale has riled many, many people living in Shenley, it seems.

A petition has been signed more than 1,500 people in less than two days.

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Posters saying 'shame' have been left on a fence next to the newly purchased land

One of the main questions appears to be how this sale was completed without the public being aware, particularly because it involved the chairman of the parish council.

And when Cllr Susman directly faced parents and Labour councillors at the school gates, they told him they wanted to keep the school field.

There was some real anger and animosity from parents towards Cllr Susman by the gate.

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Cllr Susman speaks with demonstrators at the school

Speaking on the field, Cllr Susman admitted to the Times there seemed to have been a “lack of communication” from parties involved.

Cllr Susman responds to criticism

Today, Cllr Susman gave his first official comments and outlined how the sale of land had come about.

In light of the protests and reaction on social media, he said in his statement: "Having seen the strength of feeling on Saturday, midway through the fencing process, we agreed to stop the fencing works and with the assurance from the school governors that they would now drive the conversations with the county council with regards the site.

"Whilst we appreciate that emotions were riding high on Saturday, there is no excuse for the wanton vandalism and intimidation tactics that took place on ours and our neighbours property and for people to be posting untrue and libellous comments online." 

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Councillor William Susman

He also says this was a private sale and not affiliated to his role at the parish council.

Shenley county councillor Morris Bright, who is also leader of Hertsmere Borough Council, has said he was unaware of the land sale.

He told the Times: “I was made aware on Friday evening. There is much speculation on social media about the situation without full knowledge of the facts.

“The Susman's have offered to share with me correspondence between them and Hertfordshire County Council about this piece of land.

“I shall be in contact with county officers on Monday and will be wanting to understand what contact actually occurred between county officers and Shenley Primary School, and when, and why an apparent offer for county council to take on the land seems not to have been taken up.”