£5m proposal to convert former Norwich fire station into a free school submitted for consultation

PUBLISHED: 09:05 14 February 2013 | UPDATED: 09:09 14 February 2013

The Sir Isaac Newton free school is taking over the old fire station in Norwich. Principal Mark Evans.
Photo: Bill Smith

The Sir Isaac Newton free school is taking over the old fire station in Norwich. Principal Mark Evans. Photo: Bill Smith


Proposals to convert the city’s former fire station into Britain’s first free school dedicated to maths and science are before planners.

School facts

• The fire station was built in 1934 and is owned by the Lind Trust, a youth-focused charity established by Christian entrepreneur Graham Dacre.

• It will be leased by the free school, which is open to youngsters from across Norfolk.

• At an open evening for the Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form, prospective students were asked how they will travel to the site. Seventy-seven responded to the transport questions, with 73pc indicating they will use the bus, 10pc on a bicycle, 4pc by car, 9pc by walking and 4pc on the train.

• The school estimates that, out of a maximum of 440 pupils using the site when it is fully operational, 321 students will travel by bus, 44 by bicycle, 18 by car, 39 by walking and 18 on the train.

• It also believes 50pc will live within a 20 to 25-minute walk of Bethel Street, and approximately 60pc within a 30-minute cycle ride.

• Prospective students are listed as being from west, north, south and east Norfolk, plus north Suffolk.

The £5m project to create the Sir Isaac Newton Maths and Science Sixth Form, in Bethel Street, aims to open in September for up to 220 pupils, followed by a second intake of 220 in September 2014.

Norwich City Council has started a public consultation on the plans. It remains to be seen whether objections will be lodged over the changes to the listed building, which could delay a decision on the project, or if it needs to go before the council’s planning committee.

The authority states the public consultation is due to end on March 1, with a decision deadline of May 10.

Glass-fronted designs for the doors, previously an entrance and exit for fire engines, have been dropped in favour of a more traditional wooden appearance.

A pre-application briefing before the planning committee resulted in councillors raising questions about the potential effects of extra school traffic on Norwich’s streets in the morning rush hour.

The free school plans state there is no car park, a “no car policy”, no pick-up or drop-off points for coaches or cars, and between 50 and 60 cycle parking spaces at the site.

The sixth form has also talked of a link-up with Pedal Revolution to provide free puncture repairs for pupils, among other services.

Planning documents rule out wind and biomass to provide energy but suggest solar is the most viable.

Mark Evans, sixth-form principal, said he had been interviewing pupils from across the county, with more lined-up.

He said: “Getting the balance between hi-tech, white laboratories and spaces full of Norfolk tradition is a real challenge but I think we’ve done that.”

Superintendent Paul Sanford, in charge at the neighbouring police station, has emailed the school to say he is “delighted” the old fire station is going to be put to “such good use”.

James Belcher, of Norfolk Fire and Rescue, also backed the idea and added many of the firefighters have “both fond memories and scary moments on the pole drop”.

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