School places left out of plans for garden villages

School places left out of plans for garden villages

Tens of thousands of homes are to be built in new self-sufficient “garden villages” and towns across England, but the announcement has prompted questions about school places.

The government has given its backing to 17 projects for almost 100,000 new homes and associated infrastructure in areas of need throughout the country.

Under the proposals, developers will create 14 “garden villages” of between 1,500 and 10,000 homes and three new “garden towns”, which will each have more than 10,000 homes.

The “enormous potential” of the developments has been heralded by the government, but analysis by Schools Week shows some communities are proposed in areas already struggling with school place capacity, especially at primary level.

On average, most areas have about 10 per cent of places unfilled to meet fluctuating capacity. The national average for surplus places is currently 9.8 per cent across the country.

On average, most areas have about 10 per cent of places unfilled to meet fluctuating capacity

But new garden village, Dunton Hills, set to be built near Brentwood in Essex, is in an area where just 7.3 per cent of primary school places were unfilled in 2015. The county has also predicted a 6 per cent rise in the number of primary-age pupils over the next few years.

Welborne, planned for an area of Hampshire near Fareham, will be built in an area that had 7.6 per cent spare capacity at primary level last year and in which primary-age pupil numbers are expected to rise 6.5 per cent by 2019-20.

In Buckinghamshire, where a garden town is proposed near Aylesbury, there was additional primary capacity of just 7.2 per cent in 2015.

Malcolm Trobe, the interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the creation of garden villages was a “good idea”, but education issues should be “near the top of the priority list” as the developments were planned.

A development of 10,000 homes would constitute “a pretty big village”, Trobe said, adding that each community would need several primary schools and at least one secondary school.

He said that councils needed to ensure capital funding was available for school provision, with transport links.

“Experience tells us that they [councils] can often get enough money from the developers for primary provision, but not always for secondary.”

Trobe also urged the government to ensure that schools were open “within sufficient time” to avoid an “unnecessary strain” on existing provision.

A development of 10,000 homes would constitute “a pretty big village”, Trobe said

His concerns are not without foundation. Last year, lack of suitable land delayed by a year the opening of new schools in housing developments in Red Lodge and Lakenheath, Suffolk.

According to the Newmarket Journal, council officials had to negotiate the expansion of nearby schools to meet immediate demand.

The government has allocated £6 million in capital funding to support the developments, but it is not yet known how much of this cash, if any, will go towards establishing new schools.

Councils can demand cash from developers for public amenities – including new schools – under the terms of the community infrastructure levy.

However, in some areas this money is collected by a district council, which is the planning authority, rather than the county council, which has responsibility for school places, and can lead to poor co-ordination on school buildings.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said it would outline further details, including proposals for school places, “in due course”.