Planning matters blog | Lichfields

Planning matters

Our award winning blog gives a fresh perspective on the latest trends in planning and development.

Space to Learn – England’s school building challenge
A recent report published by Scape Group[1] has revealed the extent of the school places’ challenge across all regions in England. The report analyses primary and secondary pupil projection numbers from the Department of Education and local authorities and identifies that by 2020 there will be an extra 366,000 primary school age pupils and an extra 362,000 secondary school age pupils (an almost 10% increase in the current total number of state school pupils). To accommodate this significant increase in pupil numbers, over 24,000 extra classrooms - or more than 2,100 new schools - will need to be built. To put that into perspective, it equates to the development of two new schools every day.Looking further ahead to 2025, current projections suggest the secondary school population could rise by 574,000, according to Department of Education Projections[2]. There is therefore significant pressure on Government to ensure that this need is met.Unsurprisingly the majority of the pressure for school places is seen in London, where more than 500 of the new schools are needed. Also as would be expected, closely following behind London is the South East. The below table taken, from the Construction Enquirer2, breaks down the need by region. School Building Challenge: England’s Regions Table source: Construction Enquirer Living and working in the Thames Valley, this is a story I read about frequently. Barely a week goes by without seeing an article in the local press about local residents’ battles for school places for their children. As someone who hopes to have children in the future, this is something that weighs on my mind, and like many others, is a key factor in determining where to live to ensure there are sufficient spaces in nearby schools to accommodate my future offspring. And this is before even considering any Ofsted assessments.So what can be done to ensure the provision of enough school places?It is clearly increasingly important that school-building is prioritised. There are already a number of Government initiatives in place seeking to increase the supply of schools, such as the rise of free schools and academies, where funding is received from Central Government rather than local authorities. The Department for Education (DfE) has invested £2billion to purchase land for new school sites, under its pledge to deliver 500 new free schools by 2020[3]. As part of this initiative, DfE has set up ‘LocatED’, a property company wholly owned by DfE, established to buy and develop sites for free schools in England. Whilst a positive step from Government, if the free schools initiative is successful in setting up 500 new free schools by 2020, this still leaves a shortfall of almost 1,500 new schools needed to be built according to the Scape Group figures.Therefore, more still needs be done to deliver new school capacity. With many local authorities in the process of preparing new local plans, or reviews of adopted plans, it is imperative that adequate policy provision is made, alongside the allocation of sufficient land for the development of new schools in the wider context of housing and other development needs within the plan-making process.Creative solutions to the delivery of new schools should also be explored. Scape Group Chief Executive Mark Robinson within the report states:“It is vital that we continue to deliver high quality school places quickly, and that we consider creative solutions to get the job done. Super-schools, standardised design, classroom extensions and more effective use of land to deliver mixed-use developments are all options we need to look at to deliver more school places in time.”Active engagement between central government, local authorities and the private sector to deliver new schools should be at the forefront of the new schools agenda.It is also important to recognise the potential length of the lead-in time for the grant of planning permission before construction can begin. Often, months of preparatory works are required before an application can be submitted, including pre-application discussions with the local planning authority (LPA), together with local consultation and engagement with stakeholders and communities. There is then the statutory application determination period to take into account (either 8, 13 or 16 weeks, dependent on the scale and nature of the application proposals), plus the need to discharge any pre-commencement planning conditions prior to works starting on-site.NLP has significant experience in obtaining planning permission for new schools for local authorities, public bodies and developers, including as part of mixed-use schemes, such as our recent success in Amberley, Sussex. For more information on our experience or to discuss any potential development opportunities please do not hesitate to contact us. [1][2][3]