Free school to open in business park after debate over planning rules

A SIXTH FORM free school focusing on academic subjects will open this September following talks between Whitehall and town hall officials about whether it would need planning permission to open in a business park.

Artists impression of Chapeltown Academy

The Chapeltown Academy in Sheffield is one of eight new free schools to open in the region this year – bringing the total number in the county to 20.

The school is to open in its first year in a refurbished office on Hydra Park business park before an adjoining warehouse space is redeveloped for its second year.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Government has created powers which allow free schools to open without planning permission. However, it has emerged that there was uncertainty about whether these rules could apply in this case.

A Sheffield Council spokeswoman said: “Planning regulations allow a state funded school to operate for a single academic year without requiring planning permission...

“In this particular case there was some uncertainty on whether the proposal complied with one of the conditions, that the site should be used as a school and for no other purpose.

“In this case one floor of the building is to remain in separate office use, which called into question whether the site was being used ‘for no other purpose’”.

She said the Education Funding Agency agreed to seek counsels’ advice to assist both parties with theirinterpretation of the regulations.

“This led to both parties agreeing that the proposal is permitted development, as the site means the floors specified for the proposed school, not the whole building,” she added. “It has been indicated that the Chapeltown Academy will apply for full planning permission to operate at unit six for at least a second year. If so, this application will be the subject of public consultation, as any other planning application, and it will then be possible to consider the planning issues that the proposal raises.” The school’s director of education Ali Jaffer said the school was on schedule to open next month after having its funding agreement signed by the Department for Education.

He said the academy had made around 150 offers to students and expected to open with around at least 90 pupils in its first year. He said the majority of students were from Sheffield but there was also interest from young people in neighbouring Barnsley and Rotherham.

It is one of two free schools set to open in South Yorkshire this year along with the XP School in Doncaster - a secondary school where pupils will learn through a series of large projects rather than in separate subject lessons. The approach is based on an “expeditionary learning” style of teaching used by some charter schools in the United States.