Like many London boroughs, Ealing experiences a considerable challenge in securing sites for schools in the borough, particularly at secondary level. Rather than take the risk of the ESFA purchasing unsuitable sites in the wrong areas of the borough, council officers decided to work proactively with the ESFA to meet this need. They agreed to produce a Planning for Schools Development Plan Document (DPD) as an element of the wider Local Plan. The aims of the DPD were to meet the challenge of delivering primary and secondary school places in areas of need within timescales required; to provide a specific evidence base to support site allocations; and to reduce the time and potential risks associated with delivery. The DPD also endeavoured to promote good design and space standards for schools in safe and accessible locations, and enabled officers to ensure that as far as possible site allocations supported wider council planning and place priorities. Ealing produced a list of potential sites, conducted a full consultation and issued calls for sites from key partners including the ESFA. The draft DPD was subject to a rigorous review by the Planning Inspectorate, which praised the council’s proactive and collaborative approach to meeting demand for school places. The DPD was formally adopted by the council in May 2016
Local authorities taking a proactive planning approach
The difficulty of managing the delivery of new schools is exacerbated by the unprecedented pressure on land in London, which creates challenges for London boroughs around how to deal with competing priorities for sites. Councils have nevertheless worked pro-actively to try to secure sites for new schools in areas where there is clear demand for them. In addition to securing land or funding through section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), boroughs are increasingly seeking to include site allocations for secondary schools within their Local Plan. This increases the likelihood of securing sites in non-compliant areas. It also enables boroughs to have greater influence over the location and size of new school sites and supports alignment to other policy priorities such as access to community facilities. Councils have also used prudential borrowing to purchase sites and worked with the ESFA to juggle or swap sites.