Hatfield special needs school relocation approved

CHILDREN at a special needs school are set to be moved to make way for the Hatfield incinerator, following a heated meeting today (Tuesday).

Hertfordshire County Council has approved planning permission for Southfield School in Travellers Lane to relocate to the former playing fields of Howe Dell School off Woods Avenue, Hatfield.

It means the school, which supports children with autism and learning difficulties, will relocate this summer for a period of five years, moving back if and when the incinerator at New Barnfield is built.

But anti-incinerator protesters are furious, saying the decision makes Veolia Environmental Services’ application to build a 380,000 tonne incinerator – due to be heard by the same committee this summer – a foregone conclusion.

Indeed, the incinerator application loomed large over the discussion.

Three councillors – committee chairman Richard Smith, Clare Berry and Geoff Churchard – left the council chamber before the debate, claiming conflicts of interest with other committees they sat on.

Cllrs John Lloyd and Chris Brazier also withdrew – saying the application pre-determined the outcome of the incinerator.

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Once the debate finally began, Paul Zukowskyj from Hatfield Against Incineration presented the argument against the move.

He said deciding to move Southfield before approving the incinerator was “unlawful”, claiming Veolia should have included the relocation plans within its own application.

“My understanding is that a determination of one application without consideration and determination of the other is unlawful,” he said.

“This is part of the same scheme, and a single application of that scheme should have been submitted.”

Kate Ma from the council’s school planning team argued the move “avoids causing the school anxiety” over the ongoing incinerator saga, regardless of whether it is approved or not.

But in the event of the incinerator being built, she said, the noise from the building work was likely to cause the students distress.

“Southfield School is a special school which cares for up to 75 pupils aged four to 11,” she said.

“They’re needs are complex and not all the same.

“These pupils are more likely to be affected by the impact of noise and disruption.”

Before the vote, Cllr Stuart Pile – a long-term opponent of the incinerator – urged members to reject the application or at least defer the decision until after the incinerator meeting.

But members were unmoved, voting in favour of officers’ recommendations to approve the application.

Cllr Nigel Brook said: “The school wants the reassurance that if they have to move there’s a site with planning permission for them to move to.”

And committee vice chairman Cllr Bryan Hammond, deputising for the absent Cllr Smith, said: “I think we’ve come to the right conclusion, in that the priority is that these kids are settled.”