Berkhamsted politicians back school sports hall, but warn it could become ‘worst disaster in planning history’

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Plans for a £2m sports hall for students at Ashlyns School could create the worst disaster in planning history unless they are improved, town leaders said yesterday.

The property – which is in the Green Belt – is on a Grade II-listed site and has been used as a set in hit programmes Call the Midwife and Eastenders.

School governors have been trying to get funding for a new sports hall since the mid-1980s, Berkhamsted Town Council’s planning committee heard on Monday. But it was not until earlier this year that Herts County Council finally agreed to provide it.

The development will help Ashlyns cope with the extra students in Years 7 and 8 after it switched from being an upper to a secondary school in September.

If it gets the go ahead, the £2.3m facility will contain four badminton courts, a changing area, dance studio, fitness suite and classroom.

But plans for concrete instead of brick cladding would put the building out of character with its surroundings, town councillors said.

Planning committee chairman Laurence Handy said: “One can’t help feel that this is a missed opportunity. I am very disappointed with what it looks like.

“I do not think we want 2014 to go down as the worst disaster in town and country planning history – which is what it looks set to become.”

The planning application for the sports hall said concrete cladding would be speedy and cut costs. The school hopes to have it open by September.

Although the committee backed the sports hall ‘in principle’, councillor Garrick Stevens said concrete cladding will be more cumbersome and costly in the long-term.

Councillor Julie Laws said: “Yes, there are money issues. But does it not mean that we should be pushing County to invest in a very important asset that we have got in the town? We should go back to them and say, ‘You can do better than this. Can you not stump up the money?’”

Councillor Tom Ritchie said the school’s current sports hall was criticised by Ofsted and that he would hate to put costly obstacles in the way of a new one.

But Mr Handy said: “We would like to help Ashlyns School get a better building and they jolly well deserve it –and it can be better than this, quite frankly.”

Architect behind the plans Bob Thomason said the plans are a work in progress and he is meeting experts from Dacorum Borough Council to discuss them tomorrow.

He said concrete cladding would not necessarily cost more in the long-term and that the sports hall was on the very edge of the listed Ashlyns School site.