‘Free schools in old factories’ warning as plans rules eased

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COUNCILS have warned that parents should not accept children being taught in “disused industrial buildings or redundant offices” after the Government relaxed planning rules making it easier for free schools to open in empty properties.

New measures will allow free schools to open in almost any building for a year without needing planning permission, the Department for Education (DfE) announced yesterday.

People looking to launch these new schools will also be able to open permanently in a wider range of buildings such as hotels or offices. The DfE said local planning authorities will have to carry out “only a limited assessment that will consider noise and traffic issues”.

Ministers say the current planning system means people wanting to open a free school can wait up to a year for permission to change the use of existing buildings.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: “I want to make it as easy as possible for free school proposers not only to find buildings but move into them.

“So I am delighted that we are cutting the red tape that delays free schools from securing a permanent home. Enabling free schools to move into their preferred site more quickly will mean they can concentrate on raising standards and providing parents with an excellent school place for their child.”

The Local Government Association (LGA) voiced concerns about the move.

Councillor David Simmonds, the chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “The ability to apply for retrospective planning permission is already available to free schools, as with other developments.

“Councils would not encourage this because the planning process gives mums and dads the chance to have their say and make sure the school is in a location that is easy for them to get to and has the facilities they expect for sports and a good range of classes.

“Councils ensure children are taught in proper classrooms in state schools with playing fields not in disused industrial buildings or redundant offices. Parents should expect nothing less from free schools. We’ve been presented with no evidence to suggest the planning process is an impediment to new free schools being opened.”

Free schools are a key education reform of the Government which is encouraging people to start up their own schools from scratch if they can show parental demand.