FREE SCHOOLS- PLANNING BARRIERS PERSIST
Planning Consultation doesn’t give the Government what it wants (and needs)
Robust Statement from Government warns local authorities against refusing planning permission for new schools.
The Academies Act of July 2010 stripped local Authorities of the powers to oppose Free Schools and Academies on educational grounds. However that was the easy part. The hard part concerns planning permission. It has always been known that planning permission might act as a Trojan horse to stymie the development of new schools. Planning permission rules of course exist for a very good reason. A permitted development right could give rise to a range of adverse impacts, such as: noise, the impact upon neighbouring properties and residential amenity and the hours of use – especially where schools are used by the community into the evening or at weekends. Local residents are ,of course, affected directly by schools and some residents would prefer not to have any school close by, because of the possible disruption. Planning is not just about the use of the building. As things stands any application to change an existing building into a school requires a traffic plan. This has got to satisfy local planners that a school in that particular locality will not snarl up local traffic. Traffic is a major concern in relation to child and highways safety; access; impact on the local road network; public transport provision; sustainable travel to school; parking and congestion. The school run forms a significant part of the morning rush hour. The Department for Communities and Local Government ran a consultation exercise between 14 October and 10 December 2010 on proposed changes to ‘the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995’ to facilitate schools development. The consultation was designed to explore ways of supporting the Coalition Government’s free schools policy through the planning system. It offered a number of options, for example, keeping planning permission as it is. Or, giving a permitted development right for some uses to convert to a school use.; Or giving a permitted development right for all uses to convert to a school use. Or, finally, giving a permitted development right, with attached conditions, for all uses to convert to a school.
The majority of the respondents to the consultation (120) did not support a change to the existing planning framework. Forty-seven respondents favoured reform, with twenty five respondents stating no preference. So the Consultation hasn’t really gone the Governments way. The Government ‘ sees that many of the respondents to consultation share its vision to increase choice and opportunity in state education, but remain unconvinced that the consultation proposals presented the best means to achieve this.’
However a Government statement on planning said ‘A refusal of any application for a state-funded school, or the imposition of conditions, will have to be clearly justified by the local planning authority. Given the strong policy support for improving state education, the Secretary of State will be minded to consider such a refusal or imposition of conditions to be unreasonable conduct, unless it is supported by clear and cogent evidence. .. ‘And there should be a presumption in favour of the development of state-funded schools, as expressed in the National Planning Policy Framework.’ ‘Local authorities should give full and thorough consideration to the importance of enabling the development of state-funded schools in their planning decisions’.. ‘ Where a local planning authority refuses planning permission for a state funded school, the Secretary of State will consider carefully whether to recover for his own determination appeals against the refusal of planning permission.’
So, the Government is signalling that it will not tolerate the use of planning laws to obstruct the development of new schools. However the reality is that it needs the co-operation of local authorities to advance the free school initiative and wants to avoid messy legal disputes that will slow the reform process and undermine its momentum. As things stand there are less free schools in the pipeline than was initially anticipated.