Community Land Trust developers say county council demand for £1.6m to help local schools should be torn up
- Credit: Archant
A contested housing scheme that will include 35 ‘affordable’ homes through a community land trust has run into difficulties over whether it should contribute over £1.6m to finance improvements to local schools.
Cambridgeshire County Council thinks they should but Laragh Homes, the company behind the 115-home estate at Camp’s Field, Wilburton, believes an education contribution to be “questionable”.
Ben Hunter is a consultant for Educational Facilities Management Partnership who “provides specialist consultancy for an extensive portfolio of house-builders and developers, their planners and legal advisers”.
The application is going through pre-determination stages at East Cambridgeshire District Council. The Stretham and Wilburton Community Land Trust is working with Laragh Homes. Chairman of the local CLT is
Charles Roberts, a former local councillor, former chairman of East Cambridgeshire Council and now housing adviser to Mayor James Palmer at the combined authority.
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Mr Hunter has been brought in by Laragh Homes to challenge the education sum and has told the county council that “the need for planning obligations for education mitigation is questionable”.
Quite simply, he says, 115 homes would not have an adverse effect on the existing school system.
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“On that basis, when weighing up all of the considerations, the hope is that you will see that the benefit of the development is greater than the need for education planning obligations,” he told the council.
Mr Hunter says the council’s request for early years, primary and secondary school provision is likely to exceed £1.6m, the equivalent of £14,000 per home solely for education purposes.
“At this level of planning obligations, the development would not be able to progress, and the benefits of the scheme would not be realised,” he said.
Mr Hunter offers an argument that says the “state holds that the ability or not of a planned housing scheme to fund school places necessary should not sway the determination of that application by the local planning authority”.
He contends that the county council has money for schools regardless of whether developers contribute towards it.
And Mr Hunter says it is a question of the need for new housing and argues that clearly is the case.
It is up to the district council to quantify housing need and “not to be distracted by representations from education authorities.
“In other words, is the housing necessary? If so, that is the priority. Thereafter, can it afford education obligations? If not, then Government funding picks up the tab”.
Mr Hunter goes through an analysis of existing and future school places, questioning their accuracy.
“This development is forecast by CCC (Cambridgeshire County Council) to generate 25 primary school pupils,” he says. “If CCC are correct, and the roll at Wilburton CofE Primary School will increase by two places by 2023/24 (which is around the time that this development will generate children) then the actual roll will be 123 against a capacity of 150 i.e. 27 surplus places.
“This is sufficient capacity to accommodate the pupils generated by this development.”
Mr Hunter says other housing planned for the village must make its own justification with the county council
Numbers of births were falling “and this is going to have a significant knock-on effect on school numbers in the coming years.
He says: “There is therefore a serious question to consider as to whether public funds should be expended on school expansion projects at a time when schools are going to have to start thinking about potentially shrinking, or in the worst cases, closing completely”.
On secondary provision he says: “If you were to add 21 pupils to the current roll at Witchford Village College that would mean the school had 120 spare places.
“This development is forecast to generate 18 secondary school aged pupils. On that basis, there is likely to be sufficient spare capacity to accommodate the 3-4 pupils per year group that the development is likely to generate.”
He also argues that early years education was able to absorb the numbers. The benefits of CLT housing will, he hopes, allow the council to agree to scrap their demands.
* Save Wilburton from Over Development protest group wants the proposals for their village abandoned.