A HUNGERFORD headteacher has revealed he is “deeply frustrated” by West Berkshire Council’s decision to fence off a large chunk of his school’s playing fields.
Meanwhile, some residents remain suspicious of the district council’s motives for the land acquisition at John O’Gaunt School and fear it is destined to be sold for use as a future access route for a recently-approved, controversial, 100-home development.
The issue was raised at a recent Hungerford Town Council meeting where James Podger (Con, Hungerford) said: “It was always the understanding that the land would be fenced off until it could be decided what to do with it.”
He said he believed the “headteacher was fully supportive”.
But town clerk Claire Barnes said: “The school and the governors are disappointed the kids can’t use it at the moment.”
The fencing has also caused problems for the Hungerford Archers Club.
Now, headteacher Alan Henderson (pictured) has written to parents, stating: “We returned after the Easter holidays to find that a fence had been erected around an area of the school playing fields.”
He explained that when the school converted to academy status in October 2016, the district council negotiated to keep some of the land for its own use.
However, he added: “Having asked [West Berkshire Council] not to fence off the land until they were ready to use it, we were hoping that we would be able to retain this area as part of our playing fields.
“Unfortunately, [they] have decided that they would rather fence the area off and maintain the land themselves.
“I am deeply frustrated by this decision and I fear that the land will remain unchanged for a considerable time.”
The letter went on: “We have sought clarification from the local authority as to their future plans for the land, but as yet these details have not been forthcoming... for the foreseeable future the fence will remain and the students will not have access to this land.”
He concluded by reassuring parents that the remaining land was sufficient to continue to deliver “outstanding PE lessons” and for recreational use in break and at lunch times.
Once a school playing field has not been used for sport for five years, it can be developed without the otherwise statutory requirement to consult with the Secretary of State or with Sport England.
One resident, who contacted this newspaper but asked not to be named, said: “West Berkshire Council pushed the 100 homes development off Salisbury Road through against the wishes of the town.
“The fenced-off land would make an ideal second access for the development.
“They are working very closely with the developer and there’s a suspicion this was all settled long ago.”
A West Berkshire Council spokesman, Martin Dunscombe, did not address the issue of any specific plans for the site, but said: “West Berkshire Council has a responsibility to manage its assets carefully to ensure they are used responsibly for the benefit of the whole district.
“The retention of the land and its future value will help the council recover the significant funds it has invested in schools across West Berkshire, including John O’Gaunt School.
“To ensure we can benefit from this land in the future the council is required to physically separate the land from the school and ensure that the land is no longer used as a playing field.”
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