Free school plans ‘still on course’

MBTC-26-06-12- Bedford Free School. Cauldwell Street. Bedford.
MBTC-26-06-12- Bedford Free School. Cauldwell Street. Bedford.

A “SPITEFUL” move by Borough Hall chiefs has tried to stop 200 children going to their school of choice, according to MP Richard Fuller.

At a meeting on Monday night councillors voted to not grant planning permission to Bedford Free School, which is due to open its doors in September.

Members of Bedford Borough Council’s planning committee rejected the plans against the recommendation of officers.

However the chairman of the committee has denied the accusation, and school bosses claim the school will still open this autumn.

Richard Fuller, MP for Bedford and Kempston, said: “This was a spiteful decision.

“Months ago the Lib Dem and Labour councillors showed their purely political opposition to the free school by passing a motion against the idea.

“Since then, mums, dads and children have been enthused to be part of the Bedford Free School. Four individual councillors have gone against the advice of the council’s planning experts to attempt to deny 200 children and their parents their choice of school.”

School bosses said this week that they will appeal against the decision.

Bedford Free School will be the first of its kind in the county.

Free Schools are state-funded but are not controlled by local authorities, and are based on the ‘charter schools’ found in the USA and Sweden.

Bedford Free School will have an initial intake of 200 children, and will eventually cater for students aged 11-16.

Council planning officers had previously recommended that the Free School was refused planning permission because of concerns about road safety and traffic congestion at its site in Cauldwell Street.

Councillor Anita Gerard, chairman of the planning committee, who held the casting vote after councillors were tied over the decision, said: “That fact is that is was denied on concerns about traffic, there were no other planning grounds to turn it down.

“To say that it was decided on anything other than planning grounds is an outrageous thing to say.”

A statement for the governors of Bedford Free School said: “Parents, pupils and the wider community should be reassured that Bedford Free School will be opening in September, staff recruitment continues, and the necessary building works will proceed as planned to allow this to happen.”

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