Annal Nayyar – Suggests Really Positive news – Pickles to relax planning laws for free schools

Ministers have today announced a change to planning rules to allow free schools to establish themselves in offices, warehouses or other premises without applying for planning permission first.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Education Secretary Michael Gove said the move would cut through the red tape that is holding back the development of the schools.

The change will allow free schools to occupy new premises for 12 months before having to apply for change-of-use permission. This is intended to remove concerns that the schools will not be able to open on time. Securing the correct planning permissions can take free school proposers up to a year.

Under the new regime, local authorities will have to carry out only a limited assessment on proposed free school sites, checking for traffic and noise issues.

Pickles said: ‘It is vital that free schools can plan with confidence to be able to open at the start of the academic year and these new planning measures will provide that certainty for both schools and parents.

‘We want to make sure every child has the opportunity to benefit from a good education. By streamlining the planning permission process, we can ensure new schools can open, good schools can expand and all state-funded schools can improve their facilities.’

Gove said he wanted to make it as easy as possible for free school proposers to find suitable properties.

‘I am delighted that we are cutting the red tape that delays free schools from securing a permanent home,’ he added.

‘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 change will come into effect in June and will benefit successful free school applicants in the current application round.

But teaching unions said the plans showed the government put its own ideological interests ahead of the health and safety of children.

‘It is the right of every child to attend a school that is in suitable premises that are fit for purpose and where their health and safety can, as far as possible, be assured,’ said Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers.

‘Parents will not consider these aims to be bureaucratic “red tape” but sensible measures to ensure their children are properly safeguarded whilst at school. That is why we have planning and health and safety laws in place and why councils are charged with making these judgements about the suitability of premises before planning permission is granted.’

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