Free school ‘could be catalyst to family housing’

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BACKERS behind plans for the country’s biggest free school say it will be the catalyst that leads to family housing, new employment and leisure facilities being developed in the former industrial heart of a Yorkshire city.

The Department for Education has given initial backing for the Ruth Gorse Academy to open in the south of Leeds city centre.

The school, which could open next year, is part of a plan to create family living in the area between the River Aire and motorway network south of Leeds.

It is hoped the school, which will have 1,500 places and a post-16 centre of excellence in maths, will encourage people in their 20s and 30s to stay in the “urban core”.

The plan is being led by Leeds Sustainable Development Group (LSDG) and the Gorse Trust which runs Morley and Farnley Academies. Its admission policy would be based on how close people live to the school.

The first phase of the project would be for a secondary school but the groups behind the bid are also planning to create an adjoining primary school. The trust’s executive principal John Townsley said: “This is a really important development for young people and their families in Leeds. We have a track record in the Gorse Academies Trust of creating truly outstanding schools and it is our determination to ensure that this is replicated in Leeds City Centre.”

LSDG’s co-ordinator David Lumb said: “The southern part of Leeds city centre between the River Aire and the motorways has tremendous development potential. There are some 210 acres of vacant or under-utilised sites and premises which could accommodate some eight to 12,000 new residential units on brownfield land. Significant investment in social infrastructure such as schools, health centres and community facilities is vital to the creation of a sustainable urban community in this area.”

The plan has been welcomed by Peter Connolly, the managing director of Yorkshire Design Developments. He said: “The one thing that will open up opportunities for family housing in South Leeds is a new school.

“For those of us that have been working to regenerate south of the river, we have always been stuck with the chicken and egg argument; you can’t build family houses and develop a community without good school facilities. Now we will have them.”