New Free Schools Likely to Bypass Planning Laws

November 23rd, 2010

The government is currently (until 10 December 2010) engaged in a written consultation exercise, to consider in relation to England only (in the words of the consultation document) “whether classes of development within the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended) should be given permitted development rights to change use to a school; and if so, which classes should have that right attached to them.”  The plan is (again in the words of the consultation document) “to reduce unnecessary regulation and make it easier for buildings currently in other uses to be converted to schools. …  [The government] proposes changes that apply to all schools. They will affect only those developments that involve purely converting non-school buildings for school use. Where a schools development requires any additional work to change the exterior of an existing building or is a new build development, planning permission will be required in the normal way”.  Among the options under consideration is the option to give a “permitted development right” – i.e. no need for planning permission – for certain existing uses (shops, offices, business premises, warehouses, hotels, residential institutions, leisure premises) to convert to school use; or to give a permitted development right to (nearly) all uses to convert to school use; which would mean that restaurants, bars, cafés and dwelling houses too could be converted to school use.  The second of the two options above would mean that your next door neighbour’s house could turn into a new free school (academy) and you would not be able to object through the planning system.  Government expects to exclude unsuitable premises through the process of agreeing terms for setting up of new schools – though the proposals are to apply to all schools, including local authority maintained ones.  The consultation document and recognises that some premises would be unsuitable for conversion to school use – giving the example of a skating rink.

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