As previously noted, Calderdale needs help getting its local plan approved. The plan was submitted to the government in January 2019 (under planning transitional arrangements). The document submitted to the government should be the final version, with only the main modifications (recommended by the planning inspector) made to the plan after submission.
One week before the scheduled consultation closed, the planning inspector’s intervention forced Calderdale Council to admit there were material changes to their evidence and extend the consultation period.
Council did not admit funding axe
The surprising news is that less than five days before the start of this summer’s consultation, Calderdale knew the Department for Education had rejected the application for a new Brighouse free school, seemingly failing their criteria for funding at the current time. Still, Calderdale continued the consultation without updating their evidence or alerting participants, that is, until prompted by the inspector’s recent intervention.
Brighouse growth generates school demand
Calderdale’s evidence is that the scale of housing growth in South East Calderdale increases school place demand. Calderdale’s 2019 plan (sent to the government – see page 60) identified land for a new secondary school on the largest of the two garden suburb sites. Considering that the two strategic sites would generate most of the school demand, it made sense to locate the school on one of the sites (and funded by the development).
For unclear reasons, the next round of evidence switched to increasing the size of two existing schools (although no travel plan/air quality assessment was provided). Fast forward to 2020, and the inspector was told a bid by Trinity Academy for a central government-funded school in Brighouse was under consideration. It’s this centrally funded bid that has failed.
Department for Education funding axe
In what can only be described as a spin masterclass, Calderdale maintains the news of the funding rejection is not an issue as their work shows allocations in South East Calderdale are viable and deliverable without the additional school. Whilst the evidence might suggest that now (because no houses will be built for a few years), Calderdale’s latest housing trajectory shows the strategic sites will not be fully developed in the plan period, this will cause further funding complications.
According to Calderdale’s statement, the funding axe is not an issue and makes the strategic sites more viable because the demand for secondary school places is not proven.
“If the DfE’s position is that a significant number of additional secondary school places are not required, then it follows that not only is the financial burden not placed on developers/landowners, but also that the risk profile of delivering the Garden Suburbs is reduced.”
To quote the Woodhouse Residents’ Association (WRA), Calderdale’s statement “is so misleading and wrong that it is ridiculous in the extreme. The WRA concludes that the free school failed because there was insufficient demand (50% required) to support its opening in 2023. This was based on the pupil numbers that will arise from new developments on the ground to 2026”.
It’s been a tough time for the council with shifting evidence, and the level of public engagement is far beyond what most local plans usually witness. The evidence has grown substantially to the point that the original submission is less than 10% of the document count issued by the authority and their consultants.
Less than five days before the start of this summer’s consultation, Calderdale received a letter from the Department for Education advising,
“I have now decided that it is appropriate to request that Trinity [multi academy trust] withdraw their application to open the Trinity Academy Brighouse, free school”.
With almost half of Calderdale’s planned development taking place in South East Calderdale, school provision in Brighouse has been hotly debated throughout the hearings.
Did the Inspector’s intervention prompt the admission?
Following the September intervention by the inspector, the council published the news that the school wouldn’t be funded, although the free school application has yet to be withdrawn, the Department for Education doesn’t believe the current evidence justifies building the school now.
Calderdale’s belated disclosure begs two questions: why did it take an intervention from the inspector to force the council to admit this was an issue, and when did the council think it would be appropriate to admit the funding blow?
What’s next for Calderdale?
It’s rapidly approaching the fourth anniversary of Calderdale’s local plan submission, surprising for a process that normally concludes within 18 months.
The latest round of consultation prompted over 960 responses, adding to the work for the planning inspector. With the inspector’s report expected in January, did the council hope the school issue could be ‘brushed under the carpet’?
The council knew the school would not be funded before the consultation started; it’s unclear why they withheld the information for eight weeks. Invariably, this will lead to further questions about the integrity of the local plan process.