Rules lifted to enable free schools to open in buildings for one year without needing planning permission
The government has unveiled plans to enable to free schools to more easily convert buildings into schools sites.
The new permitted development rights for free schools will allow free schools to open in almost any building for a year without needing planning permission.
Securing premises has consistently been identified as one of the most difficult obstacles to setting up a free school. Last September the Department for Education said 24 schools that were approved to open were unable to due to difficulties in securing premises.
It is hoped that the 12-month grace period will enable free schools to press ahead with their plans, rather than wait for change-of-use approval.
The move follows yesterday’s announcement of permitted development rights to enable the conversion of offices into homes without planning permission.
The government also loosened rules on the types of buildings that free schools can convert, to include office buildings and hotels, hostels, shops and warehouses.
Local planning authorities will have to carry out only a limited assessment that will consider noise and traffic issues.
Education secretary Michael Gove said: “I want to make it as easy as possible for free school proposers not only to find buildings but move into them.
“So I am delighted that we are cutting the red tape that delays free schools from securing a permanent home.
“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 government has also opened a new estate-agency style website listing surplus government properties in order to make it easier for people who want to set up a free school to search for and find sites.
Gove said: “The government estate has a host of disused or underused sites that would be ideal for new free schools.
“The new website will mean that more government buildings are available and it will be the first port of call for people looking for a suitable property for their school. It will save time and allow free schools groups to concentrate on creating their new school to raise standards and provide more excellent school places.”
Louise Allanach, EC Harris partner, said the lack of available sites for free schools “has long been acknowledged as the single biggest barrier to free schools opening on time”.
She said the change in planning requirements would help, but said free school groups would still need to be “more creative and flexible in their thinking around what buildings could work as a free school”.
The government also opened a new estate-agency style website listing surplus government properties in order to make it easier for people who want to set up a free school to search for and find sites.
Natalie Evans, director of free schools champion the New Schools Network, said the move was “extremely welcome”.
She said: “Local councillors and planners who wish to deny parents choice in the education of their children will no longer be able to hide behind the fig leaf of preventative planning regulations in their attempt to block new schools. These new measures will help accelerate the pace of the free schools movement, creating hundreds of thousands of new school places across the country.”