Decision due on free school

Sir Isaac Newton Free School plans for former Bethel Street fire station. An artists impression of h

Sir Isaac Newton Free School plans for former Bethel Street fire station. An artists impression of how the new city centre school could look. - Credit: Archant

A decision on whether a new free school can be set up in the heart of Norwich will be made by city councillors next week.

The Sir Isaac Newton Free School sixth form, which would specialise in science and maths A-levels, is due to open in September at the former Bethel Street fire station in Norwich.

Having first been approved by the department for education last year, the school had its funding agreement signed off by ministers this week, which will allow it to recruit staff.

But the school also needs to secure permission from Norwich City Council to change the use of the former fire station and to make some alterations to the Grade II listed building.

Councillors will make a decision on that next Thursday, when members of the city council's planning committee meet at City Hall.

Officers are recommending that, councillors grant permission for the scheme, so long as agreement can be reached over contributions from the school around tree maintenance, storage for cycles and monitoring of the schools' travel plan.

City Hall planners are also recommending a string of conditions, including that the school shall only be used for older and further education pupils; that the footpath on Bethel Street is restored before opening and that a travel plan is agreed.

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But officers state, in the report which will come before councillors: 'Members may be aware that the school have widely advertised the proposal and their expectation of the school being open by September 2013, with some students already enrolled.

'This is considered disingenuous - the school does not appear to have advertised its opening date as being 'subject to planning' for example - and members are strongly advised not to give any weight to this pretext.

'Should be the application for change of use be considered necessary to be refused or delayed, students and the school will need to make their own arrangements for contingency.'

Rachel de Souza, chief executive of the Inspiration Trust, to which the free school would belong, has previously said

the school does have a 'plan B' - of an alternative venue - which would ensure the school would open in September even if permission is delayed or not granted.

The free school plans has provoked some concern. Critics accuse the government's free school policy of taking funding away from existing schools and creating new school places where they are not necessarily needed.

And police at the nearby Bethel Street station have raised concerns that young people congregating around the vehicle ramp leading down to the police yard could be endangered by police cars leaving on 999 call-outs.

However, City Hall officers say that is not really something planning could control and that students should be old enough to know better than to gather in that area.