PRESTON’S first free school will open this year in the centre of the city, after the Government intervened.
Permission for a state-funded boys’ school on London Road was rejected by council officers over road safety fears.
But the Education Funding Agency has now approved a temporary site for the Eden Boys’ School in the middle of the city.
The Taudeehal Education Trust had asked Preston Council for permission to change the use of offices in London Road, but the proposals were thrown out on the grounds that there was not enough evidence to show they would not hamper the free flow of traffic on the surrounding highway network, and both pedestrian and highway safety.
Now temporary use of a building in Guildhall Street has been approved for the school, without any need to consult the local planning authority.
The school is using permitted development rights to open in its temporary accommodation.
Hamid Patel, chief executive officer of the Tauheedul Education Trust, said: “We are disappointed that planning has been refused for the permanent school site.
“An appeal against the decision is being lodged and a new application is also being submitted.
“We are confident that planning approval will be secured in due course.
“We have always intended to open the school at our interim site on Guildhall Street.
“Refurbishment work will commence after the Easter break.
“Parental response has been extremely positive and we expect to open as a full school in September 2015 as planned.”
The Eden Boys’ School will be a secondary school, which will cater for 500 boys aged 11 to 16, and 200 boys aged 16 to 18.
It will be run by the Tauheedul Education Trust.
When it first opens in September this year, trust representatives said 100 students would be admitted to Year 7 and 50 students admitted to Year 8.
Afterwards, up to 100 students will be admitted to Year 7 each year.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “The school will use temporary accommodation while work is being carried out on its permanent site.”
He said the site had been approved by the Education Funding Agency.
Bob Stott, director of children’s services at Lancashire County Council, said: “We understand that a new “free” school has been approved by the Department for Education to open in the centre of Preston.
“The County Council has been informed that it will be located in a building on Guildhall Street.
“Whilst we recognise that the new school will extend choice, Preston is already well served by a diverse mix of schools, the majority of which are rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, and there is already significant spare capacity within those schools.”
County Coun Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: “Because it is temporary, under the free school legislation, they don’t need planning permission.
“I would be interested to see how they resolve the provision of physical education, because they’ve no gym and no playing fields.”
The temporary site will be on Guildhall Street, off Fishergate in the centre of Preston.
Coun Tomlinson said: “Clearly it’s not an ideal place for the school, but it doesn’t need permission and it is going to happen.
“The current government is ideologically wedded to the free school programme.
“They are committed to promoting free schools and as such, as a local authority, we have little or no influence over that.
“We have no influence over whether there’s a free school or not and, from our point of view, it merely complicates the planning of school places in Preston.
“We are not short of school places in Preston and we already have a range of outstanding and good schools across the city.
“From a personal point of view, I would worry the addition of another school would merely destabilise the schools already in existence.”
Simon Jones, the county’s executive member of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Free schools are just not needed and not wanted.
“They absolutely wreak havoc with local authorities’ coherent admission planning for school places, and they have a severe adverse impact on neighbouring schools.
“We need local authorities to be in charge of building and opening schools and deciding where the places are needed.
“We have to look at it in the round. This is just chaos.”