Victory for school sports hall planners as borough’s politicians back the £2.3m project

Ashlyns School has achieved Sports Leadership Academy Status
Ashlyns School has achieved Sports Leadership Academy Status

Cheers from a packed public gallery greeted the announcement tonight that planning permission for a new £2.3m sports hall at Ashlyns School should be granted.

The application proved contentious when Berkhamsted Town Council previously objected to the proposal on two separate occasions – before eventually giving it their backing, subject to conservation experts’ support.

A meeting of Dacorum Borough Council’s development control committee heard tonight that planning officers had backed the proposal – which would be partly made out of concrete.

The Berkhamsted Citizens Association and town council had previously said that such a material would be unsuitable on the Grade II-listed site, which is also in the Green Belt.

Ashlyns became a sports hall in September last year and the new facilities would help it cope with the extra students in Years 7 and 8. The school now caters for 1,200 pupils.

Speaking at the meeting tonight, head girl Ailish Brown said: “Ashlyns must adapt to meet the needs of the children.

“It is not for adults to deprive us of the sports hall because of its appearance.

“We all appreciate the unique appearance of Ashlyns in Berkhamsted. But it is a school and it must fulfil its function as a school.”

She said the current gym – built in the 1920s – is too small to play basketball and netball, so students now have to use the canteen for PE lessons.

She said: “We were promised we would have this sports hall by September 2014, but it has been delayed as a matter of taste.”

Students currently do not have any permanent changing facilities, having to use a portacabin outside. The new sports hall would solve this problem.

Chair of the school’s governors Jacqueline Webby said: “We have listened and we have changed the plans. Our students need 21st century facilities.

“We need a building – as Ailish said – that is fit for purpose and delivers the needs of our students. Please, do not lose sight of what and who this building is needed for – and that it is needed now.”

The committee heard 70 letters have been received in support of the application, which has been updated to include brick cladding that reduces the visual impact of the concrete.

Councillor Colette Wyatt-Lowe said there is a nationwide obesity epidemic – and decent sports halls are needed to combat this.

She said: “It is vital to get this facility built as soon as possible.”

Meeting chairman Graham Sutton said concrete had become much more attractive to the eye than it was when architects were using it in the 1960s.

The committee backed the plans, subject to conditions including that the building have a decent appearance. The Secretary of State will now have the final say-so on whether planning permission for the sports hall should be granted.

Mr Sutton said: “When it’s completed I would love to come up and see it.”