Tensions reignite between free school and council after £1m extension plan is rejected

Bedford Free School headteacher Mark Lehain.
Bedford Free School headteacher Mark Lehain.

Bedford Free School is set to lock horns with the borough council once again after plans for a £1million extension were not given the green light.

Instead Bedford Borough Council’s planning committee deferred the school’s extension proposals and told headteacher Mark Lehain to go back to the drawing board.

He said: “We are incredibly disappointed that once again the planning committee has ignored their own expert officer’s advice.

“We had already taken on-board significant last minute changes to improve the scheme and so we are disappointed that individual councillors feel they can impose their own views against the advice of their experts.”

The school in Cauldwell Street has been granted funding by the Department for Education to create a sports hall and activity studio.

But councillors were left unimpressed by the rooftop design and went against the officer’s recommendation to approve the plan.

Now the school could once again find itself going into battle against the council as it did back in 2012 when it first opened at the former college site.

Permission for change of use to a school was initially refused by the borough council over traffic concerns, but the green light was given on appeal by the Planning Inspectorate.

Mr Lehain said: “We are considering all of our options in terms of overturning what we consider to be an improper decision and we are mindful that the last time the council refused us planning permission it cost the taxpayer £30,000.”

Students currently have to use off site facilities for their PE sessions and when annoucing funding for the extension last year, Mr Lehain said he hoped the new facility would be up and running by Christmas.