Horse charity objects to extra classroom plan at Stapleton nursery

A move to build an extra classroom at an outstanding children’s nursery has been recommended for approval, despite an equestrian charity claiming the scheme could endanger people.

Richmondshire District Council planning officers have recommended councillors approve a 26m by six-metre building on the rural farm site at High Bank Nursery, at Stapleton, near Darlington, which has been rated by Ofsted among the top 20 nurseries in the North.

An officer’s report to next week’s planning meeting states the applicants had claimed the new permanent classroom was needed to accommodate its existing children aged six weeks to five years old, following alterations to the nursery’s layout during the pandemic.

They say the building, which would represent a significant investment by the nursery’s owners, would enable the business to comply with spatial restrictions and allow it to run effectively during the pandemic.

While the proposal would lead to two more full-time and three extra part-time jobs at the nursery already employing 23 staff, officers state the planned classroom “does not equate to an expansion of the existing business”.

The report states: “It is not considered that the additional classroom space would result in a significant material change to the existing operations of the site given that it would not allow for an increase in pupils but would support the existing operations on site.”

However, both the British Horse Society, which has more than 112,000 members, and The Ramblers Richmondshire Group have both maintained objections to the scheme to increase the nursery’s floorspace by a third to 430sq m.

The groups have called for a public bridleway beside the proposed classroom to be diverted, saying mixing children, horses and cars represented a significant risk at the nursery, which launched in 2003. The horse society said it was “extremely disappointing” the right of way issues had not been addressed since it highlighted the potential safety issues.

A society spokesman said: ” This application was an opportunity to correct the breaches of the past and the British Horse Society believes that any approval should carry a condition requiring correction of the planning breaches and risk to public safety that the current arrangements at the nursery create for members of the public using the bridleway.”