Three new schools planned for Preston by 2025
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Plans for two primary facilities and a secondary establishment will be considered by Lancashire County Council’s cabinet next week.
The three schools have long been in the pipeline after being included in the North West Preston Masterplan, the policy guiding the huge expanse of new housing currently being delivered in that part of the city.
The blueprint was adopted more than five years ago and has already seen around 2,000 properties completed - with a total of 5,500 set to spring up by the mid-2030s.
However, not a sod of soil has yet been turned in preparation for any of the schools deemed necessary to accommodate the new families moving into the area - and, as the Post revealed last year, there were growing concerns amongst some councillors and residents that they might never materialise.
The masterplan featured indicative locations for the facilities, with primary schools proposed for the east and west of the area – one just south of the M55 and the other north of Hoyles Lane – and a centrally-located secondary to the east of Sandy Lane.
Over the last two years, planning applications have been approved which provide more of a clue about where two of the schools could be built. Land was reserved for the secondary facility within a 320-home development east of Sandy Lane and north of Maxy Lane in Higher Bartle, which was given the go-ahead in November last year. Responses to a public consultation over that scheme included calls for the school to be built before the houses.
Meanwhile, one of the primary schools was proposed to be included as part of a 200-home estate to the north of Tabley Lane when that development was approved 12 months earlier.
However, the exact locations of each of the establishments will not be known until much later in the process of formulating the plans, which is expected to take another year. It is hoped that the schools themselves will open in September 2025 - and a public consultation could begin early next year.
Under government rules for creating new education facilities, the three schools will have to be academies or free schools, meaning that they will not be under the control of the county council - even though the authority is responsible for commissioning them. County Hall is obliged to ensure that there are sufficient places in maintained schools for every pupil who needs one.
The requirement to create only academies and free schools also means that Lancashire County Council will have to search for suitable sponsors who will ultimately operate the facilities once they open.
The government will get the final say, but County Hall will operate an assessment process before making its own recommendation to the Education Secretary about who should run the schools.
The original masterplan had recommended that each of the primary schools should have two-form intakes each year, but under the plans to go before cabinet next Thursday, only one-form entry is proposed, meaning that the two facilities will have capacity for 210 pupils each. However, depending on the sites eventually chosen, there may be the option of expanding in future, should it be deemed necessary.
One of the primary schools will serve the Preston Rural, Preston North and Preston West school planning areas, as new housing is expected to have an impact on all three of them. The temporary expansion of an existing school will be required from 2023 to generate 30 places, while a permanent expansion will be needed 12 months later, ahead of the new school opening in 2025.
The other primary school will be for the Goosnargh and Grimsargh, and Longridge areas. Here, it has also been identified that additional places are required from 2023, which can be provided through existing school expansion before the new facility arrives two years later.
The secondary school will also have a one-form entry, with a 600-pupil roll. According to the county council, many of the existing Preston secondaries are operating at the lower end of their building capacity and it is hoped that there may be space for expansions, which will be needed in addition to the new school - one permanent and three temporary additional forms of entry over the next two years.
County Cllr Jayne Rear, cabinet member for education and skills, said of the plans: "New housing means that many more families are moving into these areas. We are expanding existing schools to meet the demands over the next few years, but many more places are needed from 2025. New schools are the only way we can provide these.
"It is crucial we give people the opportunity to share their views and the proposals will go out to public consultation if they are approved.
"These much-needed extra places are crucial in ensuring pupils have access to high quality schools now and in the years to come."
Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown said that the proposal was “an important step" in delivering the city council's North West Preston Masterplan.
“The overall sustainable development objective is in ensuring that the level of housing in the area is supported by appropriate community infrastructure, and that school provision supports wider growth and resource needs across the whole of the city, not just in North West Preston.
“Officers at the city council will continue to liaise with partners and work with developers to deliver attractive new neighbourhoods with suitable school provision, public transport, walking and cycling routes, local shops and facilities, plus public open spaces,” Cllr Brown added.
Cllr Sue Whittam, leader of the Conservative opposition group at the city council, said that the planned new schools were “excellent news” and that she hoped that they would be approved at the County Hall cabinet meeting next week..
Her Tory colleague, Cllr Trevor Hart, added: "With my background of working in schools, I'm desperate to try and ensure that we get local school places for local children - that's what I've been pushing for."
The Lib Dem group leader at the town hall, Cllr John Potter - who told the Post last year that new houses could not carry on being built at the current rate in Preston without a concrete commitment to the schools - said he was also “delighted” by the proposals, but stressed that the shortage of places was something that his political opponents should have seen coming.
“This is reactionary management of a problem which has been evolving for several years. It has been obvious to anyone who lives and works in these areas that the issue of inadequate school provision was escalating.
“[But] I’m delighted that the Conservatives have finally seen sense and listened to what the Liberal Democrats and the community have been saying for years.
"I first raised concerns about school places in the area back in July 2018, yet as late as February this year, the Conservatives voted down my budget amendment with the cabinet member, County Cllr Jane Rear, saying there had been a 'slow down of housing delivery'
"How much stress, anxiety and heartbreak for local residents could have been avoided if the Conservatives had acted sooner?” Cllr Potter asked.
He also raised concerns in an interview with the Post last year about the funding model for new schools in North West Preston, claiming that a "black hole" had opened up in the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal, the £434m infrastructure plan designed to provide the facilities necessary to support 17,000 new homes and 20,000 jobs across Central Lancashire.
Under that deal, money for schemes such as new schools comes from a charge levied on developers – known as the community infrastructure levy – and the government’s new homes bonus.
The City Deal pot has come under pressure in recent years, not least because of the ballooning cost of its biggest road project – the Preston Western Distributor, the new dual carriageway that is currently under construction and will connect the A583 with a new junction on the M55 at Bartle.
According to papers to be presented to cabinet next week, the schools now being proposed will be funded "in the first instance, through the Departmentfor Education Basic Need Grant and developer contributions for education infrastructure".
Local education authorities are responsible for the start-up costs of new schools and Lancashire County council says that it will need to consult with the Schools Forum body "to determine the criteria and forum policy to be applied in relation to the start-up costs that are to be funded from the Schools Block of the Dedicated Schools Grant".
Cabinet members will also be warned that new schools should be commissioned only where there is "a high degree of certainty" about their financial viability, in relation to pupil numbers, so that any liabilities do not hit the county council's budget in the long run.