ESFA 'to blame' for rescinded school application

The government’s education funding arm “significantly contributed to the failure” of a new secondary school that had its planning permission rescinded just weeks before it was due to offer places, an MP has claimed.

Bob Neill, the MP for Bromley and Chislehurst in London, has accused the Education and Skills Funding Agency of a “pattern of poor handling of planning applications” which has caused “anguish” to parents and children in his constituency.

The Conservative backbencher has written to Damian Hinds, the education secretary, about problems with the proposed Bullers Wood School for Boys, which prompted protests by an estimated 1,000 residents earlier this month after Bromley council withdrew planning permission for the new school.

Permission for the school, which was expected to form a multi-academy trust and share playing fields with the nearby Bullers Wood School for Girls, was originally denied by the council in January 2017 after concerns were raised over the levels of traffic in the area.

Contractors Kier Construction, with the backing of the ESFA, appealed against the decision and submitted a revised planning application. This was granted approval by Bromley council last October, with the school due to open in September this year.

However, rather than withdraw the appeal against the initial refusal of planning permission, the developers and the ESFA were allowed to continue until last December, when the appeal was finally dismissed by the government’s planning inspectorate, which upheld the original concerns about road safety.

This decision caused the council to seek legal advice on the second application and, on January 25, its development control committee made the decision not to ratify the application.

In his letter, Neill accused the ESFA of a “complacent assumption that the appeal was bound to succeed”, whereas any “sensible” developer would have withdrawn the appeal as soon as permission was granted on the second application in October. He said the ESFA “seemed more intent on making a point to the council” than ensuring the school was built on time.