Richfield Avenue Recommended for New Secondary School
RICHFIELD Avenue is the preferred location for a new secondary school in Reading with the proposal set to be considered at a meeting of the Council’s Policy Committee later this month (June 11).Reading Borough Council has been considering possible locations for a new 6-form entry Secondary School needed to cope with the on-going growth in demand for school places in the town. Current estimates are that by 2025/26 an additional 1,000 new secondary school places will be needed in Reading. Following the exercise, land at Richfield Avenue – west of Rivermead Leisure Centre and bordering Thameside Promenade – has been chosen as the preferred site for the new 900-place free school. It would open in September 2021. The site comprises a former golf driving range and open land bordering Richfield Avenue. The land had previously been earmarked for a new outdoor activity and education centre, including a high ropes facility. This will now not progress. The need for a new Secondary School also means more recent proposals for a new transit caravan site for use by gypsies and travellers on nearby land will also not go ahead. (see section below). In recent years Reading Borough Council has responded to a spike in demand at primary school level with a £61 million investment programme to create 2,550 new primary school places in the town. That growth will now flow through to secondary level. At this stage there are no plans for additional sixth form places to be provided as part of the proposed new school. At over 55,000m2 however, the preferred site is large enough to allow for expansion in the future if required. In addition to a new school, in the shorter term it is predicted that seven bulge classes will need to be accommodated as bulge classes in existing secondary schools from September 2019, and a further six bulge classes to follow in 2020. Initial meetings have been held with secondary schools to discuss the required bulge classes. It is likely that the proposed bulge classes can be accommodated within existing school buildings.
Cllr Jo Lovelock, Reading Borough Council Leader, said:“Finding a suitable site for a new 900-place secondary school which can open by 2021 has been an extremely challenging exercise, not least in a town as tight and developed as Reading. The Council nevertheless has a statutory duty to meet the demand for school places, which is expected to continue to rise. “The preferred site at Richfield Avenue stood out amongst all the options. It has the space to comfortably accommodate a 6-form entry school with all the supporting facilities a modern school needs such as a sports hall, car parking, external social areas and playing fields. It is also large enough to include a 6th form expansion in the future if needed."
Cllr Ashley Pearce, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Education, said:“Following the Council’s successful creation of 2,550 new primary school places, we believe Reading now has an extremely strong case for a new secondary school in the town. This need was clearly evidenced in the north of the borough on secondary school offer day earlier this year, with Highdown heavily over-subscribed – a position exacerbated by recent uncertainty over Chiltern Edge in Oxfordshire, which I am pleased has now been resolved. “Early indications are that Reading has been placed in the highest category by the DfE in terms of priority need for new secondary school places, which bodes well for the future bidding process. “I would also like to acknowledge the vital role existing secondary schools in the borough will have to play in accommodating extra bulge classes required in the short term to help the Council meet the demand. They will be closely involved at the consultation stage and I thank them for their co-operation so far and going forward.” A meeting of the Council’s Policy Committee on Monday June 11th will be asked to begin a formal consultation on the plans to develop the new secondary school at Richfield Avenue. The full report will be available to view at: http://www.reading.gov.uk/article/11423/Policy-Committee-11-JUN-2018. The consultation would be the first step towards identifying a provider for the new school and the Council applying for Department for Education (DfE) funding under its new Wave 13 Free Schools programme. The Government is looking to approve approximately 35 new mainstream primary and secondary and all through 16-19 free schools in total. It is likely that an outcome on all local authority funding bids will be known by the end of 2018.
Proposed Transit Caravan SitePlans for a dedicated new transit caravan site for use by gypsies and travellers are now unlikely to go ahead after the nearby site on Richfield Avenue was earmarked for a new Secondary School in Reading. A total of 222 responses were received to the public consultation last Autumn which proposed land at the junction of Cow Lane and Richfield Avenue as a possible transit site for gypsies and travellers in Reading. The future development of a new school on land nearby however, would mean vehicle and pedestrian access would be needed through the proposed transit site. A meeting of Reading Borough Council’s Policy Committee on Monday June 11th will consider the results of the public consultation exercise for a new transit site, as well the identification of a new site for a 6-form entry Secondary School. Of the 222 responses to the public consultation on the proposed transit site at Cow Lane, 164 were objections and 31 were in support. The remainder either asked for additional information or raised issues. Full consultation responses received can be found in the Policy Committee report at http://www.reading.gov.uk/article/11423/Policy-Committee-11-JUN-2018. As well as members of the public, there was a large response from businesses operating from the Richfield Avenue and Portman Road areas. Particularly strong concerns were raised by Festival Republic who argued access through the proposed transit site was required for supplies and construction materials, security, catering, broadcasting and emergency vehicles. The northern strip of the site is also used as a direct exit for up to 20,000 day visitors.
Cllr Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said:“Alongside the need for a new secondary school in Reading, the parallel exercise to find a suitable location for a transit site in Reading demonstrates the huge challenges and conflicting demands the Council faces in a tight urban area like Reading where space is at a premium. “Access to the preferred site for a new secondary school would be through the location of the proposed transit site, which means at this stage this proposal cannot be taken forward. The next step is for the Council to continue to search for suitable sites that could meet this need but also to engage with other local authorities to see if the identified need for permanent pitches can be met elsewhere.”
Councillor Sophia James, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Neighbourhoods & Communities, said:“There was a good response to the consultation exercise and I would like to thank everyone who took the time to respond. While some of the issues raised could have been addressed, the very specific issues made by Festival Republic in terms of the operation of the Reading Festival were significant, as of course was the recent selection of a nearby site at Richfield Avenue for a new Secondary School.” Last year there were 87 unauthorised encampments in Reading, most of which were on Council land. Enforcement and clean-up bills cost Reading Borough Council and the Reading council tax payer an estimated £95,000. Having a transit caravan site would help the Council move on unauthorised encampments more quickly and work will continue to identify an appropriate site. The site is on land at the junction of Cow Lane and Richfield Avenue and was chosen as a potential transit site following a thorough assessment of 80 possible sites across the borough. These were closely considered against a range of planning criteria, which included the potential effect on residential amenity, visual impact of the site and access issues. The exercise follows the result of a recent Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA), which identified accommodation needs for 10-17 permanent pitches and for a transit site to house 10 caravans for gypsies and travellers in Reading.