School Defies Planners
6 September 2012, 10:54 | Updated: 6 September 2012, 11:22
A new free school has defied town planners and opened its doors to pupils in Bedford, even though it does not have planning permission.
Bedford Free School was twice told it should not open because councillors were worried about the traffic and the safety of the two hundred children on its roll.
The school Principal Mark Lehain was on the steps of the building in Caudwell Street to greet the children and parents for the first day of the new term on Thursday 6 September 2012. One hundred children are entering as Year 7 students and a hundred as Year 9. The school will teach 11 to 16 year olds.
Bedford Borough Council has twice refused planning permission for the school to be housed in the former Bedford College building, which is on a busy road close to the town centre. The application had been recommended by council officers, but councillors were concerned about congestion, child safety and parents dropping off and picking up pupils.
A spokesperson for the school said 75 per cent of the pupils either walked, cycled or caught a bus. Marshalls were on duty to ensure everyone arrived safely.
Nigel Syson, a governor at the Free School, said: "We have legal advice which says the building already has the required planning permission. We have the approval of the government department which is funding the school, plus Ofsted and the support of parents and pupils.
"We have an appeal against the planning decision scheduled for September 25 and we will win."
A Bedford Borough Council spokesperson said earlier: "In light of the decision made by the Planning Committee to refuse planning permission, if the Free School does open it would be unlawful, as a breach of planning. It does not have permission to educate children from the age of 11.
"The reason for refusal in respect of the most recent planning application sets out the local planning authority's concerns that the proposed use would result in potential highway danger.
"On the grounds of concern for the safety of children, and others, such a breach of planning permission would result in an immediate action to instigate the enforcement process.
"The council, in any dealings with outside bodies, asks that they have secured sufficient insurance cover to meet any claims arising from activities."
A member of the public said: "I hope [Education Secretary] Michael Gove will send a message to the school telling them that they should teach their pupils to obey the law."
Free schools are run independently of local councils, and get money directly from the government. There are concerns about some free schools being set up in old office buildings, or even pubs.