Schools have surplus land ‘the size of central London’

DfE property company director says selling off land for housing can generate funding for schools

DfE property company director says selling off land for housing can generate funding for schools

Schools in England have surplus land “the size of central London” that could be used for housing and community spaces, a director of the Department for Education’s property company has said.

Matt Robertson, associate director of property at LocatED, also told a Westminster Education Forum event this morning the roofs of schools could be used for solar panels and car parks for electric vehicle charging outside of school hours.

Selling off surplus school land for housing is nothing new, but LocatEd was tasked in 2019 with ramping up efforts as part of a pilot scheme.

Robertson said over 22,000 schools sat on land of around 125,000 acres, which was more than the amount of land advised in government “building bulletin” rules.

“Over the total school estate, the approximate amount which is surplus…is pretty much the size of central London,” he said, adding that surplus land held “a great deal of potential”.

It can generate income for schools, provide housing and “new community spaces and facilities”, he added.

Capital funding generated from the sale of land “can be used to address existing condition need, but it can also facilitate any essential works to ensure the longer-term performance of the school estate”.

“That capital can also be used to be invested in sustainable technology, addressing ways to reduce running costs. All very topical at the moment. But investing capital into these existing buildings, which are less efficient, can be a real operational gain for the school.”

Solar panels and EV charging in car parks

But selling off land for housing isn’t the only way of making the estate more efficient, Robertson said.

He showed an example of a 1960s flat-roofed primary school, where a £30,000 investment in solar panels covering 10 per cent of the roof would result in a £6,000 annual reduction in the school’s £21,000 energy costs.

A larger investment, covering the whole roof, would create surplus power, which could be provided to nearby housing or businesses through a private wire agreement.

But the over-generation “also leads to other opportunities with electric vehicle charging”, Robertson said.

“The school car park is typically used during the day by teachers, by staff, by visitors. There are other opportunities there to provide evening parking for electric vehicle charging.”

He also pointed to LocatEd’s “building up agenda” in urban areas, giving the example of St James Hatcham, a primary school in London which currently stands at one-storey high.

The school would “really benefit from around £500,000 being spent on it as a minimum”, he said.

“So, in a project with multiple stakeholders in an inflationary world with no money, we asked the question: can we build a brand new, excellent education facility, improve outdoor facilities and do so without costing the taxpayer a single penny? And the answer is yes.”

A proposal in the pre-planning stage would deliver 100 homes and a new school building.

But he warned viability of such schemes was “really tough at the moment”, with the cost of the school elements of the building alone having increased by 30 per cent since April.

“But if we can end up with a school and mixed use facility…it’ll be a great news story. Bringing together lots of stakeholders the local authority, the diocese, the governing body, the Department of Education, the GLA there’s more, but that’s one of the agendas we’re currently working on.”

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