Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Ingleby Barwick Free school

Stockton Council's planning committee today had the unenviable task of determining the planning application for the Free school for Ingleby Barwick.  It's a very strange process, completely contradicting the principles of the Localism Act.
Local people want more school places in Ingleby Barwick - fact.  Many councillors across a range of parties agree with them.  Ingleby started with a wonderful master plan but for whatever reasons, long before I became involved, the master plan fell into disarray and disuse.  Hundreds upon hundreds of houses were built, but the infrastructure for education and recreation wasn't there.  Over the years primary schools were built but it's less than a decade since the first secondary was built and even before it was built it was under size and over budget.
Campaigners had hopes for the Building Schools for the Future programme, but it was never planned to deliver for Ingleby and its withdrawal left them no better but no worse off.  When Michael Gove announced his "Free School" initiative they jumped at it and started to prepare their bid.  As the bid progressed through its various stages the divergence of this policy from those of the localism act became apparent.
The government has said that Ingleby Barwick should have a Free school.  It doesn't provide the land on which to build it, but if the land is made available then the capital for the actual building will be made available.  Who has the necessary amount of land going spare?  A landowner on the edge of the town who also wants to build houses on his land which is in the green wedge.  He sees a golden opportunity - donate the land for the school in return for permission to build houses in the green wedge.
So a planning application goes in, not for a school but for a school with 350 houses.  Those 350 houses will contain children.  Recent experience in Ingleby Barwick indicates that they will produce about 90 extra primary age children.  There aren't 90 extra places in the whole of Ingleby.  So the campaigners say, never mind - we'll apply to build a primary school as well if that's what's needed!
In theory the local council is the local planning authority and can decide on its own policies and then see if the application fits into them or not.  But here we have the government minister saying that the school is needed and will be allowed, though not commenting on whether the site is suitable.  Of course the education minister doesn't have any say on the housing element.  The planning committee is told that they must look at the matter in light of planning policies, regardless of the need for the school.
On the day, everyone on the committee seemed to feel that if the school application had come alone it would probably have been approved - a school building surrounded by playing fields and with suitable landscaping could be accommodated in the green wedge because the need for the school places is so strong.  But only one person felt it was acceptable to have 350 houses in the green wedge as the price for that land and she represents one of the Ingleby Barwick wards.
Interestingly, the Tory councillor for Eaglescliffe couldn't make his mind up and didn't vote. There's not a lot of point in sitting on that committee and then not casting a vote and not explaining why.
Now the application will go to appeal and be decided by an inspector or even the secretary of state, but Stockton Council has stuck to its policy on Green Wedges and I'm pleased.  I just wish the houses hadn't been the price for the school.  If Michael Gove really believes that Ingleby Barwick deserves a school he should have allocated funding for the land on which to build it.  It's cheating the people who've worked so hard to tell them that they can have a school but they have to provide the land.

No comments: