Mystery remains over cost of Norfolk’s first ‘free school’

The cost of Norfolk's first 'free school' remained a secret today as neither the government nor the school's principal would reveal how much money had been spent on it so far.

Whitehall spending on the controversial programme hit the headlines last week as ministers refused to comment on specific schools, amid speculation that one project had already cost �15m.

Now the EDP has been rebuffed in its bid to find out the cost of leasing and refurbishing Kings House on Surrey Street in Norwich, which is set to be Free School Norwich's home when it opens in September.

Its first principal, Tania Sidney-Roberts, said: 'The costs associated with the eight new free schools are not yet in the public domain, and so, unfortunately, I am unable to comment on this at this point in time.

'I did take advice on this from the Department for Education (DfE).'

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She added: 'The building is near-perfect and in excellent condition already. It needs only minor work to transform it into a primary school setting.

'We easily met the DfE value for money criteria with Kings House in our business plan and I am very proud of how little it is costing to establish this brand new, city centre primary school, which will serve hundreds of Norfolk children and their working families for many years to come.'

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The EDP has now submitted a request to the DfE under the Freedom of Information Act, in a bid to find out the details.

Meanwhile, it emerged that those behind the school do not yet have planning permission to turn the former Aviva office building into a school.

Mrs Sidney-Roberts said that a planning application had been submitted to Norwich City Council at the end of January.

She said: 'Partnerships for Schools and Norfolk Property Services have been working over the past five months to carry out all the necessary surveys and assessments to ensure that it is an appropriate location for a primary school.'

She added that the planning application process was expected to be finalised in May.

Last week, the EDP exclusively revealed the site of Free School Norwich, which is set to be the first of a wave of free schools being developed across England.

Free schools are directly funded by the government, independent from local authority control and can be set up by groups of teachers, parents or business people. They have the freedom to set their own hours, holidays and curriculum.

The EDP also told how Mrs Sidney-Roberts was looking to establish similar schools in Great Yarmouth, KIng's Lynn and Thetford in the future.

? What do you think? Write to EDP letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE, email or join the debate about free schools by following @stevedownes1973 on Twitter.

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