Communities Secretary Eric Pickles today introduced new planning measures to support the expansion of popular state schools and the creation of new free schools. Ministers are determined to change the current system which is viewed by many as an obstacle to good schools with long waiting lists being able to expand.
In a new planning statement, Mr Pickles set out new principles for councils considering proposals for the creation or development of free and other state-funded schools. The new guidance is a boost for state education and local promoters of the Government’s flagship free schools programme, who can now be confident their proposals will be processed swiftly, and that new schools can be set up quickly in response to demand from local people.
The Secretary of State said the measure should allay public concerns that some councils could have a conflict of interest as a local planning authority and a local education authority, or could try to use the planning system to stop new free schools opening. The new rules provide greater certainty for all involved.
The Government is committed to ensuring there are sufficient state-school places and improving choice and opportunity in state education so every child can reach their full potential. Free schools give parents, teachers and community groups the power to establish a state-funded school to help improve standards for all children.
The Government is making it easier for people to create, expand and improve free and other state-funded schools, and today’s guidance makes it clear that councils should work positively with communities from an early stage to identify suitable sites and prepare strong planning applications.
Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said:
Councils need to do more to support the expansion of popular schools, so that school waiting lists are not a barrier to greater equality of opportunity. We also need to avoid councils covertly seeking to use planning red tape to stop the healthy competition of new free schools. These measures will help improve local schooling to the benefit of local communities.
Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, said:
We urgently need more good school places. Red tape must not be a barrier.
These important changes will allow talented teachers, parents, charities and Academy sponsors to set up excellent new schools more quickly, responding to parental demand.
Free schools will improve choice for parents, give power back to teachers, and give more children access to a first class education that’s close to home.
The new planning rules set out how planning departments should operate in a positive manner when dealing with proposals for state-funded school.
There should be a presumption in favour of the development of state-funded schools including free schools, as expressed in the National Planning Policy Framework
Councils should give full and thorough consideration to the importance of enabling the development of state-funded schools in their planning decisions
Councils should make full use of their planning powers to support free school applications. This should include engaging in pre-application discussions with promoters and, where necessary, using planning obligations to help deliver development that has a positive impact on the community
Planning authorities should clearly justify any application refusal for a free and other state-funded school or any conditions imposed
Councils should ensure that a streamlined system for submitting and determining school applications is in place
Appeals against refusals of planning permission for state-funded schools should be treated as a priority
The Government is also publishing a summary of responses to its consultation, Planning for Schools Development, and will continue to explore whether there is further scope and need for the planning system to do more to support state-funded schools, and in particular, free schools in the future.
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