Norwich Free School gets green light

Work to create one of the country's first Free Schools in Norwich will start within weeks after the scheme was given the green light, despite concerns it could lead to traffic chaos.

Members of Norwich City Council's planning applications committee yesterday granted planning permission for the former Aviva office Kings House, in Surrey Street, to be turned into the school.

The backers of the school described the approval as a 'major step forward' and said work would start on Wednesday, June 1 with the new school opening in September.

But Green councillors on the committee had called for the scheme to be rejected, saying its proximity to the bus station was potentially dangerous for pupils.

They also raised concerns that parents dropping off their children could bring the city's buses to a standstill if they caused a jam in Surrey Street.

Graeme Gee, Green city councillor for Mancroft, said: 'I do have some serious reservations about the some of the items in the report.

'This part of Surrey Street has existing conflicts between pedestrians, buses and we have been told enforcement will need to be key to keeping the traffic flow moving.

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'This is an area where even a slight impact on the traffic could have substantive effects not only on the safety of the area, but beyond it.'

But the applicant has agreed that it will pay for 'no stopping at peak times' regulations in Surrey Street, complete with extra enforcement officers to ticket anyone who disobeys, while the bus station is happy for a drop-off area in Queen Street to be used by the school.

The Greens proposed that the scheme be rejected, but it was defeated by five votes to three. The scheme was then approved, with five votes in favour and three abstentions.

Tania Sidney-Roberts, the school's principal, had told the committee that the school, which would cater for 168 pupils, would make a 'valuable contribution to the city of Norwich'.

She said afterwards: 'This is a major step forward and we are extremely pleased this application has been approved. The school is a very important development for education in Norfolk and has considerable community support.

'It will also be one of the first Free Schools to open in the UK on Monday, September 5. Kings House is a superb building and is ideally suited to our requirements.

'Modernising and changing the building into a school will need relatively few alterations. Kings House will retain its wonderful architecture and will be a fine place for modern education.'

Free School Norwich is a primary school for up to 168 children aged four to 11. Unlike most schools, it would be open 51 weeks a year, while it would open from 8.15am to 5.45pm six days a week.

The government says free schools will enhance parental choice and drive up standards. They are directly funded by the government and removed from local authority control, with the freedom to set their own curriculum and holidays.

Lats autumn, education secretary Michael Gove named The Free School Norwich among 16 given the go-ahead to progress to drawing up a full business plan.