Friday, 30 July 2010

Planning for ‘free’ schools’

In a statement in the Commons on 26 July, Eric Pickles attempted to explain how his department is going to do the bidding of the Schools Secretary (Michael Gove) and “tear up planning laws” to allow his new ‘free’ schools to be built.

In the short term, there is not a lot anyone can do to give effect to Gove’s ‘diktat’. So Uncle Eric was reduced to huffing and puffing that local authorities should “attach very significant weight to the desirability of establishing new schools and to enabling local people to do so” and that they should “adopt a positive and constructive approach towards applications to create new schools”, but he had to add that they should also seek to mitigate any negative impacts of development through the use of planning conditions or planning obligations. However, he added that LPAs should only refuse planning permission for a new school if the adverse planning impacts on the local area outweigh the desirability of establishing a school in that area.

Repeating the formula he used in May in announcing the end of regional strategies, Pickles said that LPAs and PINS should take this Commons statement into account as a material consideration when determining planning applications and appeals.

Ministers obviously recognise that LPAs may nevertheless refuse permission and so Pickles is going to ask the Planning Inspectorate to fast-track any appeal that is lodged. So it’s tough luck on those appellants waiting to have ‘ordinary’ planning appeals dealt with; any ‘free’ school appeal will go straight to the head of the queue.

Further liberalisation of planning law to ease the creation of ‘free’ schools will have to await legislative amendments, which are likely to take the form of amendments to subordinate legislation. Rather puzzlingly, Pickles suggested that this would be by way of changes to the Use Classes Order, but I would have thought that the appropriate vehicle would be through the addition of a further class of permitted development to Part 3 of the Second Schedule to the GPDO. This would not, of course, prevent Article 4 Directions being made by LPAs if they felt that such changes might be harmful if uncontrolled.


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