The new firm will buy land and buildings to construct 500 free schools across England

The government has created a publicly-owned property company to buy land and buildings to construct 500 new free schools across England by 2020.

The new entity, called Located, describes itself as the UK’s biggest property start-up. Backed with £2bn, it will consider brownfield, greenfield, mixed-use sites and existing buildings, ranging from 10,000 to 175,000ft², to help achieve the government’s stated aim of creating 600,000 new school places by 2021.

The government said Located would act on its behalf “to secure the right sites, at the right price, to ensure hundreds more free schools can open”.

Located’s chief executive Lara Newman said the new organisation had the expertise and will operate at pace to negotiate with multiple partners across the private and public sector. “We work directly with landowners, agents and developers to secure sites for new free schools, whilst ensuring the best value for the taxpayer,” she added.

Peter Lauener - who it was also announced will soon retire as chief executive of the Education Funding Agency - said Located would improve the experience for free school trusts, for many of whom finding a site was the main challenge to opening a school.

“The establishment of Located places this challenge in the hands of a specialist team of commercial property professionals,” he said.

The government also announced that the Education Funding Agency and Skills Funding Agency were to be merged into one body.

The new, single funding agency – to be called the Education and Skills Funding Agency – will sit within the Department for Education and begin to operate from April 2017, according to Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening.