Planning for schools development - government climbdown
The NUT is proud to have played its part in forcing a Government climb-down over plans to allow premises including shops, restaurants, drinking establishments, hot food take-aways and funeral parlours, to convert to school use without the need for planning permission.
In an attempt to support the development of free schools, the Department for Communities and Local Government consulted late last year on whether certain types of premises, or any kind of premises, should be able to convert to school use without the need to obtain planning permission.
The NUT argued forcefully that:
· allowing unsuitable premises to convert to school use would not serve the interests of children;
· any proposal to set up a school must be subject to local consultation;
· children need proper indoor space (classrooms, a hall, space for PE, a canteen and kitchen, a library and areas for IT facilities) as well as outdoor play space;
· the proposal could lead to all sorts of problems in relation to traffic congestion, parking and pupil safety;
· allowing schools to share premises with another organisation, whether a shop, a library or, most controversially, a drinking establishment, would be completely impractical and a logistical nightmare for the head teacher and staff of such a school;
· ideally, schools should be purpose-built, but at the very least the current planning process should be retained.
Our concerns were clearly shared by other respondees to the consultation. Of 192 responses, 120 were against making any changes to the existing planning framework.
Against this background, the Government was forced to water down its proposed reforms. It has instead published a policy statement which says local authorities should exercise a ‘presumption’ in favour of ‘state-funded’ schools. Significantly, however, planning permission laws will not be weakened.
This is a significant victory for the NUT and other organisations that opposed the proposals. Local campaigns against free schools will be strengthened and councils will still be able to use planning grounds to reject applications for free schools.