MAPLEDURHAM Playing Fields has been officially flagged up as a location for a new Caversham Heights free school.

Reading Borough Council announced today that the Education Funding Agency (EFA) has indefinitely postponed work at the controversial High Ridge site, off Upper Warren Avenue, to launch a consultation into finding a community-backed permanent location for the Heights Free School.

This is the first time that the EFA has officially included the 25-acre playing fields as a possible location for the new 350-pupil school.

Mapledurham Playing Fields were bequeathed to the town in 1938 by Charles Hewitt for use as a recreation ground.

It is owned in trust by the borough council with all the councillors acting as trustees for the site.

The borough council is expected to approve plans to set up a cross-party sub-committee to act as trustees leaving the rest of the council free to get involved with the consultation.

Other sites suggested are Bugs Bottom and the Albert Road Recreation Ground.

Council leader Jo Lovelock said the council is happy to facilitate the consultation and added: “Before we can do that however, we need to be able to separate the Council’s role as Trustees of Mapledurham Playing Fields, from its responsibilities as the Local Education Authority tasked by the EFA to engage with the local community. The proposal is therefore to set up a Sub Committee of Councillors who would fulfil the Council’s responsibility of independent Trustees.

“Notwithstanding Reading Borough Council’s role in engaging with the local community on this matter, the final decision of where the permanent site for the school should be remains with the EFA, as does the final design of the school.”

The EFA postponed work at the High Ridge site for 12 weeks to scout out alternative locations and wrote to the council yesterday asking for assistance in finding a permanent site for the school.

Although the council will be spearheading a consultation into which site is chosen the EFA will still make the final decision.

The council has taken legal advice to make sure it can work with the community over a location for the school whilst still fulfilling its duty as trustees of the playing field.

Reading East MP Rob Wilson welcomed the EFA’s decision to launch an open consultation and thanked the council for agreeing to run it.

He said: “I am pleased that theEFA has agreed with me that there should be a proper local consultation. I wanted Reading Borough Council to play a lead role as it owns many of the potential sites.

“It is now the responsibility of the Council to ensure that it investigates the only real alternatives which are in its ownership, as outlined in the EFA’s letter.

“I expect it to take a fair and balanced approach that considers the needs of the school and the various views of local residents.”