Everything we know about the Harperbury free school disaster

UPDATE 19 March. New data from Hertfordshire. Although local authorities can non longer build or even commission schools, they still have to keep track of the need for school places. Hertfordshire’s latest report (PDF) shows real and growing need for secondary places across almost the whole county in the next ten years. In Radlett and Bushey, the shortage peaks in 2022/23 when there’s a projected shortage of 181 places. That’s enough children to fill six whole school forms without places. It’s no wonder that the report prominently notes that the Harperbury Free School project has been cancelled. The area needs a new secondary school – and soon.

UPDATE 29 February. Harperbury vice chair Clive Glover has set up a petition. He wants Minster for Education Nicky Morgan to override Lord Nash’s decision and open Harperbury Free School. Sign the petition here. There are 303 signatories so far.

THE STORY SO FAR: It’s all over. The Harperbury Free School that aimed to provide 120 places per year for 11-19s from Shenley, London Colney, Radlett, Bricket Wood and Borehamwood & Elstree, has been thrown out by the Department for Education.

Clive Glover, one of the project’s founders and vice chair of governors, has written a Facebook post about it, which is well worth reading. I spoke to him at the weekend. Here’s the latest:

  1. It’s the minister’s decision. Schools Minister Lord Nash has decided that planning permission for the school is unlikely to be granted by St Albans City and District Council because the site is too small so he’s cancelled the whole scheme.
  2. It’s an EFA cock-up. The Education Funding Agency, the executive agency that dispenses £54 billion (yes, billion) per year on 3-19 education and is responsible for the Academy and Free School programmes, was responsible for launching the school. They didn’t understand the requirements and planned a project that could never have won planning permission. In an answer to a series of written Parliamentary questions from St Albans MP Anne Main, schools minister Edward Timpson vaguely blames the site’s green belt location for the cancellation but doesn’t acknowledge the EFA’s error.
  3. It’s final. There’s no formal way for the decision to be reversed and there’s no appeal process. The Harperbury group haven’t given up, though, and we may see a new or revised application, for this site or another one.
  4. It’s already cost a lot of money. Schools Minister Edward Timpson says “the combined capital and revenue cost of the project to date is £1,919,000”. Clive Glover says this almost certainly understates the actual cost.
  5. The problem hasn’t gone away. The local authority says that, by next year, there will be a shortage of places in secondary schools in the area. Bernadette John, an advisor at the Good Schools Guide, calculates around 90,000 children won’t be allocated their first choice of school nationally. Children from schools in the Radlett area are already dispersed to 57 different secondary schools – from Berkhamsted to Northwood. The council says they’ll need 500 new school places by 2022.
  6. The decision has big implications. The minister’s decision ominously suggests that he thinks it unlikely that any suitable site exists in the area. If that’s true, councils are going to have to look hard at their plans. How will the extra school places, doctor’s surgeries and leisure centres that are needed be provided if there’s no room? The Harperbury group commissioned research that identified over 60 sites in the area – from farmers’ fields to brownfield sites. Is none viable? And remember, councils can’t build their own schools any more, even when the need is evident. They must first seek proposals from academies and free schools.
  7. No children are affected and no one loses their job. After the plan was deferred for the second time last year, the Harperbury team decided not to recruit for 2016 and the headteacher and senior leadership team signed up for the second push were let go.

The core of three governors who have been looking after the project since the last deferral – Clive Glover, Sarah L’efquihi and Nick Eaves, have not given up but have not decided how they’ll respond yet. Hertsmere’s MP, Oliver Dowden, is meeting with the minister this week.

I’ll keep this blog post up to date as I learn more – and if you have any questions you’d like answered, leave them in a comment here or visit the Harperbury Facebook page.

Transport for London and Thameslink – oh dear

A couple of weeks ago we learnt, from an Evening Standard article, of Department for Transport plans to hand control of London’s suburban railways to Transport for London. According to the report, this would include Thameslink and all the other London commuter lines. We all got a bit excited about this.

Whatever you think of Transport for London, handing responsibility for the commuter lines to London’s strategic transport authority makes perfect sense. An integrated urban transport network for Europe’s biggest city – underground, buses, overground, river boats, bikes and roads – ought to include the suburban railways. Even if we did have to wait for the current Thameslink contract to expire in 2021, it looked like a change to be welcomed.

Sadly, the Evening Standard got it wrong.

Thameslink’s press office weren’t able to confirm the story but Transport for London gave me the bad news:

Rail services that are already contracted by TfL include a number of destinations outside the London boundary, such as Watford, Cheshunt and Shenfield. The Thameslink line to Bedford is not part of the scope for the inner suburban routes.

(my highlight)

So the plans don’t cover any of the outer suburban lines. It seems implausible, but the haphazard patchwork of franchises that serves London’s suburbs is somehow still thought to be viable for a 21st Century city and will persist. Sorry.

There may be some hope, though. This press release, from the Mayor, says:

The proposals – on which views are being sought – would see the transfer of rail services that operate mostly or wholly within the Greater London boundary to TfL when the current franchises are due for renewal.

(my highlight)

If ‘on which views are being sought’ means there’s a consultation planned, then I’d anticipate a torrent of contributions from suburban rail users asking for their lines to be included. The consultation hasn’t begun. Watch this space.

Mrs Patel has made a big decision

Rekha Patel in her kiosk on platform 1 at Radlett StationRekha Patel, who runs the invaluable newspaper kiosk on platform 1 at the station, has told me that she’s going to close up for good on 20 February. Her last day in the kiosk will be Friday 19 February.

She’s not retiring: she’ll still be working full-time in her other job and will have much else to keep her busy, so I’m glad she’s decided to close the kiosk – it must have been very hard, taking on the business on her own, after Vinu’s death a year ago, even with the help of Sejal and Beejal and everyone else who’s contributed.

So if you’re passing in the next week or so, do stop by and wish Mrs Patel the best of luck. Radlett’s commuters are going to miss her very much.

Music on the Farm is tomorrow – have you bought your tickets?

logo for Music on the Farm event at Battlers Green Farm, Radlett, 5 September 2015

 

The mini festival at Battler’s Green Farm is tomorrow (5 September) and we hear there are still a few tickets left. The line-up looks great. Confirmed artists, performing on three stages, include: Pop Idol runner-up Gareth Gates, rock ‘n’ roll band Dixie, Kingsland Road singer Joe Conaboy and Ben Thapa from G4. The full list is here. Tickets for the day are £21.40 for adults, £11 for kids (children under 5 are free). Buy online here. Better still, the weather forecast isn’t too bad. No rain at least!

How you voted

Screenshot of Hertsmere general election result from BBC web site, 8 May 2015It was never going to be the most exciting of elections for us in Hertsmere. No earthquake for us. It’s a Conservative hold, of course (as it is across Hertfordshire). And the Hertsmere numbers tell the national story pretty well. Conservative, Labour and Ukip all saw increases, both in absolute numbers and in share of the vote. And the source of those extra votes? The Lib Dems, by and large (an increased turn-out also helped – it was 65% in 2010). Share of the vote for the party whose candidate was reportedly too busy to campaign fell by a wapping 11.8% to 5.5% (2,777 votes – she’s just retained her deposit) The biggest gainer was Ukip, whose share jumped by 9.1%. Ukip candidate Frank Ward polled more than twice as many votes as Sophie Bowler (6,383). For Hertsmere, there’s the story.

Stay tuned for the Hertsmere borough and Aldenham parish election results, which we should have from about 4pm today.

So what’s going to get you voting?

Less that 24 hours to go. Which Radlett issues will influence your vote in the election? We asked and you answered (you can still complete the survey here).

So, in order of importance to local voters, here are the issues that will motivate the Radlett electorate in the polling booth Thursday (number of votes for each issue in brackets).

1. The Freight terminal and the green belt (158)
2. Development in Radlett (156)
3. The NHS (150)
4. Crime and policing (148)
5. Local amenities (139)
6. Transport and commuting (136)
7. Local business (127)
8. Schools (125)
9. Young people (124)
10. Environment (123)
11. Elder care (115)
12. Housing (115)

You can see the full survey questions on the survey page and the detailed results here.

It probably won’t surprise you that the top scoring issue relates to the planned freight terminal on the old Radlett airfield in Park Street. Likewise, the pressures caused by development in Radlett were bound to be high on the list. Some of you added narrative responses. Here’s a few of them:

Give more teeth to planning officers who seem incapable of stopping overdevelopment at the expense of the greenness of the area. Stop concreting over front gardens. Plant more trees. The state of verges is appalling with thoughtless drivers parking on them with impunity.

NHS Free at the point of care. No privatization not even sneaky its not really privatization privatization.

Potential mansion tax, inheritance tax.

No Free Schools to be built. Rather schools built where they are actually needed not as some form of vanity project or special interest group intent on avoiding national governance or indeed national curriculum.

Rail Freight!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thanks to all of you who completed the survey. Don’t forget to vote!

The manifestos are in

So we now have manifestos from all the major parties. Here, for your convenience, are the manifestos of the four parties standing in Hertsmere:

Conservative – Strong leadership, a clear economic plan, a brighter, more secure future (here’s the downloadable version).

Labour – Britain only succeeds when working people succeed (downloadable version).

Liberal Democrats – Stronger economy, fairer society, opportunity for everyone (downloadable version). The Lib Dems provide their manifesto in several different versions, including this ‘easy read’ version (PDF) and an audio version.

Ukip – Believe in Britain (downloadable version). Ukip’s manifesto is also accompanied by a 20-page ‘economic review of policy proposals‘ prepared by consultancy CEBR.

We’ll leave it to you to evaluate the various parties’ commitment to the issues that are important here in Radlett. But don’t forget to complete our survey about those issues, which will be live until the election.

Leaflets from Hertsmere candidates, summarising party positions on local and national issues, are being circulated now (although we haven’t seen one from the Lib Dems, yet). You can see all of them on the volunteer-run Election Leaflets web site.

And, of course, there are other players in this exceptional election. Although you can’t vote for any of them, you’ll want to take a look at the manifestos of the Green Party (PDF), the SNP, the DUP (PDF) and Plaid Cymru (PDF). They could all influence the outcome on 7 May.

General Election 2015 in Radlett

Don’t get over-excited. You live in the Parliamentary constituency of Hertsmere. The excitement of General Election 2015 is going to largely pass you by (as it will, of course, for most electors in most constituencies). According to this chart on the Electoral Calculus web site, ours is the 87th least marginal Conservative seat in Britain. It would take an upset of a never-before-seen magnitude to cause Hertsmere to change hands on 7 May. So relax. However you vote, you already know the outcome.

The incumbent MP – Conservative James Clappison – is standing down at this election. His replacement as Conservative candidate, Oliver Dowden, will, as night follows day, take his seat in Parliament on 8 May.

So, what is there left to say about Hertsmere? Well, there are only three other candidates so far declared. No candidates from the Greens or from the BNP, both of whom stood in 2010. They still have time to declare their candidacy, though, and so do you, so if you’d like to stand yourself, you have until the close of business on 9 April to submit your nomination. It’s not a straightforward process so you’ll need to get your skates on – and there’s the small matter of the £500 deposit. The Electoral Commission’s advice for candidates and agents is very comprehensive.

The four candidates so far on the ballot, in alphabetical order, are:

Sophie Bowler, Liberal Democrats
Bowler is a late entry. She’s on the Your Next MP web site and listed on the Liberal Democrats web site but doesn’t have her own profile yet. According to the JC, she’s too busy to campaign. The Liberals polled a respectable 8,210 last time round (the candidate was Anthony Rowlands), just behind Labour.

Richard Butler, Labour
A 27 year-old Borehamwood Councillor who’s been a Labour member since he was 15 and a councillor since he was 21. He’s, on Twitter. Labour’s 2010 candidate, Sam Russell, polled 8,871, putting him in second place, over 17,000 behind the Conservative candidate.

Oliver Dowden, Conservative
Hertsmere’s Conservative candidate is a member of the party’s inner circle: Deputy Chief of Staff to David Cameron and an experienced SPAD. A local man, born and brought up in St Albans and living there now, he apparently won the candidacy by a landslide, taking over 50% of the internal Conservative Party vote in the first round, which is very unusual. This Spectator article names him as one of ‘David Cameron’s secret A-list’ of candidates anointed by the Conservative hierarchy. He has a web site and is on Facebook and Instagram.

Frank Ward, Ukip
Interestingly, your Ukip candidate was also once a Borehamwood Labour councillor. Ward joined Ukip in 2013, having been deselected by Labour in 2006. He was a Labour member for 45 years. He’s also chairman of Hertsmere Ukip.

Although our own election is likely to be on the dull side, the General Election itself looks like it’s going to be anything but, of course. The BBC’s General Election homepage will probably be a good starting point (declaration: I work at the BBC). All of the papers have set up election portals, of course. The lead story on The Telegraph’s today is about reactions to last week’s seven-way TV debate. The Guardian’s lead story is about a Conservative defector to Ukip.

Among the pollsters, it’ll be worth keeping an eye on YouGov’s constituency page for Hertsmere. Using a rolling poll of approximately 150,000 UK electors (751 of whom apparently live in Hertsmere) they’re currently projecting a Conservative vote in the range: 41.7-54.6%. The fact that US polling ninja Nate Silver (founder of the FiveThirtyEight data journalism site), is forecasting the UK General Election has to be interesting, although he’s actually using the work of a group of UK academics to do so. His current prediction is for the Conservatives to take 283 seats against Labour’s 277. In this interview, though, he cannily concedes that accurately forecasting this year’s UK General Election will be very different from doing so in the more stable two-party context of the USA. UK Polling Report is an always-fascinating blog from Anthony Wells, Director of YouGov’s political and social opinion polling. He looks at all the UK polls and specialises in debunking party and media spin. His own poll of polls currently has the two main parties tied on 34%. Follow him on Twitter too. The BBC News Poll Tracker uses multiple UK opinion polls to measure support for the main parties during the campaign.

I’ll keep this blog up to date during the campaign, with links to useful resources and, as they arrive, details of the candidates’ policies. If any hustings occur locally, I’ll link to them here too. If you learn about any resources that I ought to be linking to here, leave a comment or email me. Follow @RadlettWire on Twitter for regular updates and the very handy @RadlettNewsBot for automated news about Radlett and the constituency.

Sad news from Platform 1

Mr Patel on platform 1 at Radlett station

UPDATE: Vinu Patel’s cremation will take place at Golders Green Crematorium at 4pm on Friday 13 February.

Terribly sad news this weekend. From a sign on his newspaper stand at Radlett station, we learn that Vinu Patel, who had kept the Radlett station newspaper stand for over 15 20 years and a newsagent in the village before that, has died. He’d been poorly for a week or two and the stand was closed for all of last week.

I’ve been commuting from Radlett since 1999 and Mr Patel has been a friendly presence on platform 1 for all of that time. We chatted for a minute or two almost daily for all those years: usually about the weather, sometimes about cricket or his family or holiday plans. I know that so many other Radlett commuters did just the same and they’ll miss him terribly.

He was a lovely man and a hard-working example to us all. If you’re in touch with his family I’d be pleased if you’d let me know so that I can provide more information about their plans.