New free school forced to open in temporary home by planning permission delays
- Credit: Archant 2013
A new free school will have to spend its first term in a converted office block because of delays getting planning permission for its first-choice location.
The Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form free school had hoped to open in the former fire station in Bethel Street, Norwich, in September, but will now start life in space formerly occupied by Aviva in St Peter's House in Cattle Market Street.
A decision on the application to convert the Grade II listed fire station into the school was twice delayed – and planning permission was only granted on June 13.
Principal Mark Evans said the school has so far signed up 150 students for its planned cohort of 220.
He said that number was enough to make sure the school was viable, but he said the uncertainty had not helped recruitment.
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He said: 'Not having a building and not being able to meet staff leaders led to some doubt, but I am delighted that I can now bring them to this building and show them somewhere that will be, in just two months, quite a lovely space.'
The school's space in St Peter's will include the fourth floor, which has a sweeping panorama which takes in Norwich Castle, Norwich Cathedral and Mousehold Heath. There is also a roof-top terrace which students will be able to use in lunch breaks.
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The fourth floor will be converted into office space and a lecture theatre, while the third floor will be sectioned into six learning spaces, and two science laboratories will be installed on the second floor.
Dr Evans said the building had an adult feel which would help prepare students for the school's rigorous academic approach. He said the free school was one of the first in the country to use new government planning rules which allow them to move into empty or under-used buildings without the need for planning permission.
He said the school itself was not involved in negotiations over its home, and most of the materials bought for St Peter's would be re-used in the fire station, and the biggest cost would be installing IT in both locations.
He added: 'Buildings are the Achilles' heel of the free school programme and the planning regimes have been used as a barrier to stop free schools coming, but now we are able to avoid politics stopping educational development.'
The temporary move to St Peter's House is subject to the lease being signed.
A spokesman for Norwich City Council confirmed that it had received a letter about the school's plans, and that because of the new planning regulations it would not be involved in the matter.
She said it had been told the school will relocate to the former fire station by March 2014.