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4,300 extra school places needed in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 10:04 29 August 2014 | UPDATED: 10:04 29 August 2014

Norfolk County Council needs is creating more than 4,000 new places in schools, but admits it does not know if government cash will cover the cost.

Norfolk County Council needs is creating more than 4,000 new places in schools, but admits it does not know if government cash will cover the cost.

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Norfolk’s booming population means council bosses are planning for an extra 4,300 school places within four years - but they admit it is unclear if government money will cover the cost.

As research was published which indicated local councils are having to plug a shortfall of at least £1bn to provide new school places, Norfolk County Council revealed it is planning for 4,337 extra places by 2018.

And the council says, while it has been handed almost £34m from the Department for Education to create new school places, it cannot be sure if that will be enough.

Research by the Local Government Association (LGA) suggested more than three quarters of council had not received enough government money to create extra school places between 2011 and 2016.

More than a third of the councils who said they did not receive enough funding said they had borrowed money, two thirds used money from developers, over a fifth took funds from other building programmes and half used cash from other school projects, such as school building maintenance, the LGA said.

But a spokeswoman for Norfolk County Council said: “We received £33.599m (split £16.135m, £8.519m and £8.945m) capital grant from government to be used over 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17.

“We do not yet know whether the Department for Education money is sufficient to last until 2016/17, but we have the opportunity to plan and prioritise where we spend the money.

“We also haven’t yet allocated £5.390m of the overall £33.599m which will allow us to address additional pressures should they arise.”

The council said all children set to start registration year in a Norfolk school from next month had been allocated a place.

The spokeswoman added the council had not been forced to borrow extra money to support growth in pupil numbers and had not cancelled or changed any school capital projects to address growth in other schools.

But the council has used money from developers to help build schools and provide places - £2.4m in 2010/11, £793,000 in 2012/13 and £3.4m in 2013/14.

David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people’s board, said of the report: “The scale of this black hole is such that the cost of the creation of new school places cannot be met by council taxpayers.

“The lack of school places is no longer confined to primary schools but is spreading to secondary schools, and across the country we estimate more than 200,000 places will be needed.

“Councils face a challenge to create places on time and in the right areas, in a climate where they are also short of money to do so.”

The Department for Education has previously said it is making around £5bn of funding available to councils to create new school places, with around 212,000 new primary places created between May 2010 and May last year.

• Do you have a schools story? Call education reporter Martin George on 01603 772468 or email martin.george@archant.co.uk

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