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Oxford free school plan rejected
9:00am Saturday 9th March 2013 in News
CAMPAIGNERS last night warned the squeeze on primary places would get worse after plans for Oxford’s first free school were thrown out.
Councillors decided, against their officers’ recommendation, to refuse planning permission for the Lord Nuffield Club in Cowley to become the Tynedale Community School because the grounds were too small. They were also concerned about the traffic impact.
The principal of Tyndale Community School left in tears after councillors rejected proposals.
The planned school, which was set up by Chapel Street Community Schools Trust and Oxfordshire Community Churches, had been due to open in just six months’ time and would ultimately have had a roll of 420 pupils.
But councillor Mike Gotch said Oxfordshire County Council’s standard for the outside grounds of a school of that size was 2.22 hectares. The Cowley site was 0.59 hectares.
He said: “The space allocated to children is really, really sub-standard.”
But retired teacher Mike Carter, 67, from Botley, said: “There is a shortage of school places in Oxford, so I would say it’s totally short-sighted and ill-advised.”
Free schools were introduced by the Coalition Government, a move which was opposed by Labour which leads the city council locally. Windmill Primary School parent Natalie Poynter hit out at the decision. The school is facing a controversial expansion from two-form to three-form entry.
Ms Poynter said: “It’s a shame. The county council is ultimately relying on free schools to deal with the problem of the lack of pupil places for primary schools in Oxford.”
Oxfordshire County Council supported the bid.
Cabinet member for education Melinda Tilley said: “I don’t think it’s a sensible decision.
“I suspect the next stage will be for the school to go to appeal, and I don’t think the council would have much grounds to fight it.”
Starting with an intake of 60 children, the school had hoped to cater for 420 youngsters at William Morris Close within seven years. At the city council’s east area planning meeting, only Colin Cook backed the plans. Five voted to refuse permission, with one abstention.
The school’s prinicpal-in-waiting Liz Russo, 40, who is expected to relocate to Oxford in two weeks, was seen leaving in tears.
Steve Jones, 37, the prospective chairman of governors for the school, said: “We need to stop and listen to the concerns that have been raised, but clearly the planning process isn’t exhausted.”
He wouldn’t rule out an appeal.But options are still up in the air as a new law, expected to come into effect in June, could mean the project may not initially need permission anyway.
The Department for Communities and Local Government recently announced that legislation to make it easier for free schools to move into existing buildings.
The school bought the building from Cantay Estates Ltd last year.
At the meeting, where plans by Cantay Estates for 43 homes on the adjacent sports fields were also thrown out, councillors expressed fears over the amount of traffic the school could generate.
Mr Cook said: “It is a lot better than the leaky portable buildings and dilapidated buildings that many students and teachers have gone through in this country.”
Labour councillor Ed Turner added he was worried about the amount of traffic.
- Due to an increased birth rate and an influx of young families into the county over the past five years, the county council needs to find an extra 500 primary school places this September.
Several schools, including New Marston and Wheatley, are already due to expand to take an extra form each, and others, like Windmill in Headington, are still in the consultation stage.
Melinda Tilley has admitted that in the worst-case-scenario, schools could be forced to expand against their wishes.