Councils take court action on free school

Two councils have launched separate High Court challenges over the location of a free school.

In the latest development in a long-running battle, South Buckinghamshire District Council and Stoke Poges Parish Council both announced on Tuesday that they were taking a planning decision by the Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles, to the High Court.

The legal action is the first time councils have taken such action in opposition to a free school site.

Khalsa Secondary Academy opened in Stoke Poges, a village near Slough, last September, but has faced opposition after concerns about noise.

The school was granted approval to open for one year in Pioneer House, a former office building, under a change to planning law brought in last year.

In an amendment to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, education ministers can allow any building to be used as a state-funded school over one academic year without needing planning approval.

A change-of-use application submitted to the district council, which would have allowed the school to remain on the site permanently, was turned down.

Following an appeal of this decision by the Department for Education (DfE), a central government planning inspector recommended that the application remain refused, but in September Eric Pickles over-ruled this and granted approval for the school to stay on the site.

The two councils have now said that they will be taking his decision to the High Court.

In a statement, the district council said: “We have taken counsel’s advice and his conclusion is that the decision to give approval was poorly reasoned and legally flawed on the noise aspects.

“We will be seeking to get the decision quashed, which would mean the appeal would have to be re-determined, with a fresh hearing or inquiry at which the comparative noise effects of the school and the previous business use of Pioneer House could be fully addressed.”

Cr Roger Reed said: “Eric Pickles has made a bad decision and we need to take action. The legal challenge is the best way of reversing the school’s adverse impact
in terms of additional noise for our residents.”

Stoke Poges Parish Council also released a statement confirming that it had begun a High Court action.

“The council argues that this decision is unlawful on a number of grounds, and expects the challenge to be considered by the High Court late this year or early next,” it said.

The Department for Communities and Local Government was unavailable for comment.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said that they would be awaiting the outcome of the appeal with interest.

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