Do free schools need planning permission?

The short answer is yes (the Government did not, after all distort the planning system simply to support free schools).

When someone wants to knock a building down, or build one, or use one for something different to what it was used for before, they generally need planning permission.

However, where the old ‘use’ and the new ‘use’ are in the same ‘use class’ that does not require planning permission.

The Government contemplated relaxing that for free schools wanting to set up in non-school buildings, such as shops and offices. As the Department of Communities and Local Government’s “Response to Consultations” of August 2011 explains:

“The Department for Communities and Local Government ran a consultation exercise between 14 October and 10 December 2010 on proposed changes to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 to facilitate schools development.

The consultation was designed to explore ways of supporting the Coalition Government’s flagship free schools policy through the planning system. The free schools policy was announced by the Secretary of State for Education on 18 June 2010.

A consultation was launched to explore the case for relaxing planning controls for change of use planning permission for schools development to support the Government’s educational reform agenda.”

In the light of that consultation, DCLG decided not to change the existing planning rules for free schools. Planning permission will still be needed to use a non school building as a school. But the Government did say (and local planning authorities would need to ‘have regard to this’):

The Government believes that the planning system should operate in a positive manner when dealing with proposals for the creation, expansion and alteration of state-funded schools, and that the following principles should apply with immediate effect:

  • There should be a presumption in favour of the development of state-funded schools, as expressed in the National Planning Policy Framework.
  • Local authorities should give full and thorough consideration to the importance of enabling the development of state-funded schools in their planning decisions. The Secretary of State will attach significant weight to the need to establish and develop state-funded schools when determining applications and appeals that come before him for decision.
  • Local authorities should make full use of their planning powers to support state-funded schools applications. This should include engaging in pre-application discussions with promoters to foster a collaborative approach to applications and, where necessary, the use of planning obligations to help to mitigate adverse impacts and help deliver development that has a positive impact on the community.
  • Local authorities should only impose conditions that clearly and demonstrably meet the tests set out in Circular 11/95. Planning conditions should only be those absolutely necessary to making the development acceptable in planning terms.
  • Local authorities should ensure that the process for submitting and determining state-funded schools’ applications is as streamlined as possible, and in particular be proportionate in the information sought from applicants. For instance, in the case of free schools, authorities may choose to use the information already contained in the free school provider’s application to the Department for Education to help limit additional information requirements.
  • A refusal of any application for a state-funded school, or the imposition of conditions, will have to be clearly justified by the local planning authority. Given the strong policy support for improving state education, the Secretary of State will be minded to consider such a refusal or imposition of conditions to be unreasonable conduct, unless it is supported by clear and cogent evidence.
  • Appeals against any refusals of planning permission for state-funded schools should be treated as a priority. Where permission is refused and an appeal made, the Secretary of State will prioritise the resolution of such appeals as a matter of urgency in line with the priority the Government places on state education.
  • Where a local planning authority refuses planning permission for a state-funded school, the Secretary of State will consider carefully whether to recover for his own determination appeals against the refusal of planning permission.

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