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The London Borough of Hounslow: Free School sites

Nishkam All Through Free School is currently delivering primary provision from a temporary location. Prior to opening, the Nishkam Trust had purchased a long lease on a site (Site A) which was designated Metropolitan Open Land (MOL), which confers certain protections on the site and makes it much harder to build on. Subsequently, the council identified a council owned MOL site (Site B) as the only possible location for another new free school due to open in 2018, Bolder Academy School. A rugby club occupied the premises, which prevented the development of Bolder Academy from proceeding. The only possible place to move the rugby club was to Site A, sharing the site with Nishkam Free School.

Having built a new clubhouse on Site B and secured sponsorship from a large media company based next door, the Rugby club had significant investment in its current site. The successful delivery of these two schools was therefore co-dependent and faced a number of significant obstacles. The development of Bolder Academy on Site B could not be taken forward until Site A had been secured for Nishkam and the Rugby club currently occupying Site B had been persuaded to move to Site A. Meanwhile, the MOL for Site A was not initially owned by the free school Trust or the ESFA and there was strong local opposition to any development of this land as a school. The Nishkam Trust had purchased the lease for the school in advance of opening and therefore it was initially difficult to demonstrate that the requisite assessments had been undertaken.

Working with the ESFA and the rugby club, the council was able to relocate the rugby club to Site A, and the separate planning applications for a school and rugby club on Site A were approved by Hounslow’s Planning committee. The ESFA is now proceeding with construction plans and hopes to open the school in its new site in 2018. The planning application for Bolder Academy was subject to similar hurdles. The Bolder Academy proposal grew out of the close working relationship between the council and its schools. There is a risk that the delays to the development and inevitable demands on the time of the sponsor schools will impact negatively both on standards in existing schools and on the relationship with the local authority. Headteachers from local schools have worked together to put together a local solution to mitigate these risks to the local area. The complexity of these projects, and the significant financial and time investment required by the local authority to overcome the challenges highlights the fact that free schools are not a cost neutral option for councils.