In the quiet period of the summer holidays, education news had appeared to have packed its bags and disappeared to the beach. However, on 15 August 2011, Secretaries of State Eric Pickles and Michael Gove issued a joint policy statement on the Government’s commitment to support the development of state-funded schools and their delivery through the planning system. This supersedes the statement of 26 July 2010.
In it, a number of principles are set out:
- There should be a presumption in favour of the development of state-funded schools;
- Local authorities should give full and thorough consideration to the importance of enabling the development of state-funded schools in their planning decisions;
- Local authorities should make full use of their planning powers to support state-funded schools applications;
- Planning conditions should only be those absolutely necessary to making the development acceptable in planning terms;
- The process for submitting and determining state-funded schools’ applications should be as streamlined as possible;
- 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, or the Secretary of State will consider it to be unreasonable;
- Appeals against any refusals of planning permission for state-funded schools should be treated as a priority; and
- If refused, the Secretary of State will consider carefully whether to recover for his own determination appeals against the refusal of planning permission.
Although the policy statement is expressed to relate to all state schools, there is undoubtedly a strong emphasis on free schools throughout the statement. Many of the bullet points are fairly obvious ones, but the clear warning that the Secretary of State will ordinarily see a refusal of planning permission in relation to a school as unreasonable is a significant shot across the bows.