Consultation rejects proposed planning free for all for new schools

The government has backed down from giving promoters of free schools the right to convert existing buildings to free schools without planning permission after overwhelming opposition to its proposals.

The government consulted on giving either limited or full permitted development rights to developers of free schools in October last year. However, it yesterday published the resulting changes to the planning system, which said merely that councils should have a presumption in favour of free schools applications for change of use.

The guidance also seeks to ensure councils don’t impose punitive planning conditions on free school applications and says the government may seek to reconsider applications that have been turned down.

The communities department released the results of its consultation into the changes alongside the planning guidance, showing that consultees rejected the proposal to grant permitted development rights by more than two to one.

The summary of responses said that consultees were most concerned that new schools would end up in inappropriate locations.

Rachel Wolf, director of the New Schools Network, told the Guardian the change of heart could see free school applications skewed towards wealthier areas where councils were more in favour. Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham said the move showed “Michael Gove’s “anything goes” approach to planning new schools has been roundly rejected.”

The new planning guidance is available here.