Monday 5 January 2015

Info on planning process for free schools

Today the Plain English guide to planning for free schools has been published by the Department for Communities & Local Government.  Also published today is the Plain English guide to the planning system.

Readers interested in The Heights primary school's search for a permanent site may find it useful, as may those living near Crescent Road where the new Maiden Erlegh School in Reading is to be built (subject to planning).  

The new primary free school (provisionally called the "Civitas Academy) in Hodsoll Road has just finished the process, having been given planning permission at last month's (December) Planning Applications Committee.

The guide does not contain new legislation, it simply sets out an overview of current planning legislation in plain English.

This includes, for example, that each local authority is required to plan to meet current and future needs for school provision as part of preparing a Local Plan for their area.  The most relevant section for residents interested in the planning process relating to The Heights, the following is an extract from the guide:

Obtaining planning permission
A planning application for a new free school will not be submitted by the Education Funding Agency on behalf of the free school trust until after the free school group’s application to be a free school has been approved by the Department for Education.

A planning application may be required for the change of use of an existing building and for alterations or extensions to the building as well as for 6 construction of a new building. Full details of what is involved in the submission of a planning application can be found on the Planning Portal and your local planning authority’s website. (See Annex A for an overview of the planning process).

Where a planning application is required, the local planning authority is generally responsible for making a decision on the proposal in the first instance. Parties are encouraged to speak with the local planning authority about the proposal at an early stage and in the case of free schools the Education Funding Agency will ensure this happens.

The Policy Statement makes clear that local planning authorities should work positively and collaboratively. This includes engaging with pre-application discussions, and ensuring that information requested to support the application is necessary and proportionate.

A local planning authority usually has up to thirteen weeks to make a decision on the planning application for a free school. This is reduced to 8 weeks for planning applications for minor development, such as the erection of a small building. Some small buildings or extensions benefit from a permitted development right (see paragraph 38 below).

Generally, once planning permission is granted, development must be started within three years. If work has not started by then, the applicant will probably need to reapply. For a change of use conversion the work must have completed within three years.

The National Planning Policy Framework places emphasis on the need for local planning authorities to approach decision-taking in a positive way to support the delivery of sustainable development. The Policy Statement supports this by making clear that there should be a presumption in favour of schools. It is expected that any refusal of planning permission for a free school should be clearly and robustly evidenced.

Any planning application must be determined in accordance with the development plan (Local and neighbourhood plans and, where relevant, the London Plan) unless other material considerations indicate otherwise.

Many issues are capable of being material considerations but in broad terms should relate to the use and development of land. As a general principle, the planning system considers what is in the public interest and matters that affect solely private interests are not usually material considerations in planning decisions. However, each application is considered on its merits.

Local planning authorities can consider whether proposed development could be made acceptable through the use of conditions or a planning obligation attached to a planning permission. Any planning conditions including those imposed on the planning permission for a free school will need to be clearly and robustly evidenced, and should only be those 7 absolutely necessary to make the development acceptable in planning terms.

Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 enables a local planning authority to enter into a legal agreement (known as a “planning obligation” or “Section 106 agreement”) with a developer to secure contributions towards the provision of community facilities, infrastructure or services that are required to make a proposed development acceptable.

For example, this mechanism could be used to ensure the delivery of a new access road or junction improvements necessary to service a new school. Similarly a local planning authority may seek to negotiate a Section 106 agreement in respect of a free school to secure final agreement to a site.