Route 39, North Devon free school

David Fitzsimmons's picture
With less than 60 pupils across Years 7 and 8 since opening in September 2013 the Route 39 organisers are still pressing for planning permission for a 11-18 school of 700 places in an area of outstanding natural beauty with over 1000 places still available across the 4 existing secondary schools. The planning application is likely to be heard in early June by Torridge District Council planning committee, but only environmental reasons are admissible. Given the news about Free Schools nationally this week, it seems illogical in the extreme. Any advice and support in trying to prevent this waste of public money welcome, as we prepare our opposition case.
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Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 12/05/2014 - 09:31

Planning permission decisions only need consider environmental factors such as traffic or whether the proposed development is detrimental to the area, as you say.

Route 39 hopes its permanent site will be on Steart Farm which is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). There are traffic concerns to the site and its development may contradict the National Planning Policy Framework which gives AONB land the highest "status of protection" regarding landscape.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 12/05/2014 - 09:36

If you haven't done so already, it might be a good idea to read Natural England on Planning in AONBs.

UPDATE 11.19am Just found this letter from Natural England to Torridge District Council objecting to the proposal.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 12/05/2014 - 10:05

It appears the Secretary of State (is that Gove or Pickles?) has written to Route 39 and told the free school that its plans wouldn't have a significant impact on the area although an Environmental Impact Assessment (ISA) would be required.

So much for localism when SoSs make comments about planning matters before planning permission has been decided.

Jayne's picture
Mon, 12/05/2014 - 10:07

It is one thing to oppose a proposed free school or the free schools policy in general, but quite another to campaign to close down a free school once it is open.

As you say, David, Route 39 opened in September 2013 and as a trade unionist, I feel very uncomfortable about this website being used to campaign for an existing school to be closed and its teachers sacked. The students, parents and staff at this school have rights and they should not be written off as the political equivalent of
"collateral damage". That would be totally wrong in my view.

Brian's picture
Mon, 12/05/2014 - 10:23

Where a free school is opened in an area where there is already is a surplus of places that can make existing schools less viable and certainly less well funded. What about the teachers and other employees in those schools whose jobs become at risk. How does a 'trade unionist' respond to that ... survival of the fittest maybe, although bear in mind that the cards are very much stacked, by the government, in favour of free schools?

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 12/05/2014 - 10:28

Jayne - this thread is about planning permission for the permanent site. Nothing has been said about closing an existing school or sacking teachers. That's a straw man argument.

David Fitzsimmons's picture
Fri, 13/06/2014 - 15:42

Would your stance be any different, if you knew I had had to make staff redundant in 2012-13 because of the 12 pupils I "lost" to Route 39? Loyal colleagues, who lost so much, because of this illogical school. It's Hobson's choice as to whether they or I will have to mkae further staff redundant.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 13/06/2014 - 15:57

Unenviable position seems such a lame and empty observation. I wonder whether Jayne has any additional comment in her trade unionist hat about the unnecessary and avoidable job losses you were forced into by the decision to approve Route 39?

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 12/05/2014 - 10:32

David - you may already be aware of the numerous documents on Torridge District Council website relating to Route 39's proposals for the development of Steart Farm. They include letters from:

National Trust expressing concern whether the development is justified;

North Devon Coast AONB - "profound concern";

Devon Wildlife Trust - concern re the proposal to discharge treated foul water into a stream which runs through a County Wildlife Site

CPRE - "no rational need" for the development.

All documents can be downloaded here.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 12/05/2014 - 16:35

If the existing 11-18 provision (a) has adequate admissions capacity and (b) all the existing schools are Ofsted grade 2, then, I see no reason why this Free School was sanctioned in the first place and even less reason for it to breach planning regulations in an AONB.

The whole scenario appears to support the LibDem opposition to the reallocation of £400m from funding to support LAs in need of extra places to the Free School programme. This makes me wonder whether the media may also be interested in this.

Protecting the rights of employees is always a necessary and sometimes laudable goal in our society but presumably the case becomes fraught with tensions and contradictions if the job that were created arose from erroneous ideological party political gerrymandering, and if these jobs were to be maintained could cost jobs at existing schools in the event of falling rolls caused by the opening of an unnecessary Free School (i.e. where there was already adequate pre-existing capacity at 'Good' schools).

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Mon, 12/05/2014 - 19:12

A sound and relevant rebuttal to Jayne's point Andy ...I would add that , with the Route 39 school not even at 50% capacity, then it can hardly be considered to be "closing a free school" when local authorities all over the country have been expected to close and reorganise schools when there are surplus spaces.

What would be interesting to know is what schools were placed as second choice on the parents preference form (if indeed they expressed a preference for the alternative maintained schools ...or was private education the next option?).

I can't gloat at the founders for such a poor enrolment after all their work ..but you can't say they weren't warned and should have been thoroughly appraised of the ethics of the matter.

And congratulations to the community spirit of parents who . offered a posturing alternative , chose to back their local maintained school.

David Fitzsimmons's picture
Fri, 13/06/2014 - 15:46

The Route 39 impact assessment released on the DfE website this afternoon uses "as the crow flies" for a school to be situated on the coast and assumes boat travel across Bideford Bay for school transport. It includes schools in Barnstaple 33 miles away, but not Bude, 9 miles away. It also says in bold that there will be an impact on the finacnial viability of Great Torrington and Holsworthy schools i.e. we may have to close. It also uses a single attainment measure from Summer 2012 as the sole criteria and is now woefully out of date. if it wasn't so important it would be funny.

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