Report of the Head of Planning, Transportation and Environment (PTE/20/26) on the approval of Capital funding and commencement of the free school presumption process for the proposed new Okehampton Special School, attached.
An Impact Assessment was also available for the attention of Members at this meeting.
(Councillors Ball, Biederman, Connett and Hannaford attended remotely in accordance with Standing Order 25(2) and the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 and spoke to this item).
The Cabinet considered the Report of the Head of Planning, Transportation and Environment (PTE/20/26) circulated prior to the meeting in accordance with regulation 7(4) of the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012.
The Report sought to obtain the necessary approvals to establish a new Special School through the Department for Education’s Free School Presumption Process on land at East Okehampton Business Park, approval of capital and revenue funding to provide the new school, approval of the appropriation of land and delegated powers to the Head of Planning, Transportation and Environment.
The Report highlighted the context in relation to the demand for Special Education provision, complex needs, the offer of flexible provision, demographic change, inward migration and house building. The need for new provision was outlined in the SEND Strategic Review 2017/18 and in March 2018, Cabinet approved the Strategic Review of Special Needs Places (CS/18/10). Whilst significant progress had been made, demand still outstripped supply and a gap in provision had been identified along the A30 corridor (east of Exeter).
An opportunity had arisen to secure land already in the Council’s ownership to bring forward a new special school in Okehampton subject to gaining planning consent.
The proposal was that the new Special Needs School would provide 80-100 places for pupils with Social, Emotional and Mental Health/Autistic Spectrum needs for primary and secondary aged students. The site was shown edged in red on the plan at Appendix 1 to the Report and formed part of East Okehampton Business Park, with easy access to the strategic road network.
The illustration within the Report showed the number of children with an EHCP with a primary need of SEMH, ASD or SLCN (1099) living within a 20 mile radius of the proposed school site.
Under Section 6A of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, the Local Authority was under a duty to seek proposals to establish an academy/free school under the free school presumption process. There was a delegated Cabinet Member decision in March 2020 to proceed to the initial consultation and approval to proceed to the formal process of seeking a sponsor was now sought. The statutory process included advertising for a sponsor, assessment of applications and making a recommendation to the Regional Schools Commission (RSC) on the Council’s preferred sponsor.
The new school was planned to be operational by September 2023 at the latest, although potentially in 2022.
As required, an initial consultation had been undertaken to gain views on the new special needs school and to inform the specification. The consultation ended on 18th September 2020 and positive responses had been received.
The Local Authority was required to meet the associated capital and pre/post opening costs related to the new school. The estimated capital cost of the proposal was £8m which would be met from existing SEND capital funding approved within the Planning Transportation and Environment Capital Programme.
Revenue Funding would be met from the High Needs Block. However, longer term, it was anticipated there could be savings achieved in the region of between £1.7 millions - £2.1 millions per year as demand was removed from the independent sector.
In order to appropriate the Site for planning purposes, the Council had to be satisfied that it was no longer required for the purpose for which it was currently held and the purpose to which the Site was to be appropriated was one which the Council could acquire land by agreement, that the appropriation facilitated the development of the Site; and that development would contribute to the promotion and / or improvement of the economic, and/or social and / or environmental well-being of the area.
In summary, the need for a new special school was a priority to meet the growing demand for places to enhance choice and diversity for a changing population as well as helping to meet the budgetary shortfall on the High Needs Block. All new schools were required to be Free Schools and it was therefore necessary to undertake the statutory procedures to seek proposers for this new special school as well as secure the land, capital and revenue to start the process. The Okehampton site was well located and no other suitable sites had been identified. Once open, the school would greatly enhance the education and wellbeing of SEND children in western Devon.
The Head of Service’s Report contained an Impact Assessment for the attention of Members at the meeting. The investment in the new Special School would have a positive equalities impact for pupils requiring more flexible provision which met local needs and where there had been an increasing demand for the provision. The wide geographical spread of provision meant there remained unmet need for a number of children who were finding it increasingly difficult to access mainstream provision.
The matter having been debated and the alternatives explored as outlined in the Report) and other relevant factors (e.g. financial, sustainability (including carbon impact), risk management, equality and legal considerations and Public Health impact) set out in the Head of Service’s Report and referred to above having been considered:
it was MOVED by Councillor McInnes, SECONDED by Councillor Hart, and
(a) that revenue funding, and the allocation of existing capital funding, to support the delivery of a new special school in Okehampton, the preparation of a reserved matters planning application following a grant of outline planning permission (which is presently being sought) and full design subject to securing the necessary planning consent be approved;
(b) that the Commencement of the Presumption Free School process subject to securing the necessary planning consent also be approved;
(c) that pursuant to s.122 of the Local Government Act 1972, the appropriation of land at East Okehampton Business Park such that it be held for planning purposes under s226(1)(a) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 be approved; and
(d) that delegated authority be given to the Head of Planning, Transportation and Environment to negotiate and authorise compensation payments and
agreements which may be required pursuant to s.122 of the Local Government Act 1972 as a result of the appropriation of the land.
[NB: The Impact Assessment referred to above may be viewed alongside Minutes of this meeting and may also be available at: http://new.devon.gov.uk/impact/].