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Minister steps in to ensure Trinity school opens in Riverhead

By Sevenoaks Chronicle  |  Posted: July 04, 2013

  • Lord John Nash

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THE Government is set to wade in to allow Trinity Free School to bypass planning rules and open a temporary base in Riverhead, the Chronicle can reveal.

Schools minister Lord Nash was penning a letter to Sevenoaks District Council as the Chronicle went to press this week.

He will signal the school's intent to use permitted development rights to bypass the usual procedures.

The move will allow Trinity to convert disused offices at Ryedale Court off London Road in time for the new school term in September.

But the school will only be able to operate at the site for one academic year, unless it secures planning approval from the district council to extend its stay.

Lord Nash's intervention comes just a fortnight after Trinity withdrew its initial planning bid, following concerns from Kent County Council highways experts and Riverhead Parish Council over the traffic it would generate.

Initially, Trinity's bosses said they would reapply with a proposal designed to allay those fears. But, with district planners looking at an eight-week turnaround to consider applications, the free school is concerned time is "too tight" to go through the planning and construction process before the start of the school year.

As a result, Lord Nash's letter is due to arrive at Sevenoaks District Council imminently, and builders are already poised to move into Ryedale Court.

Dr Bill Lattimer, chairman of Trinity's governors, said: "The minister's letter will say we are going to use permitted development rights.

"These allow us to have a temporary change of use, from offices to an academic establishment, for one year. We will apply to Sevenoaks District Council in the autumn for a second year."

Securing planning permission for a further 12 months is crucial for the school, which intends to use Ryedale as a stopgap home before it moves to a permanent site in 2015.

Although Sevenoaks District Council is unlikely to turf pupils out onto the street at the end of the first year, permitted development rights do not give the school an automatic entitlement to stay in London Road any longer.

And Trinity's bosses will still need to tackle concerns about traffic – something they say they will do before the school opens in September.

"Although we'll be addressing the feedback we've had when we make a new planning application," said Dr Lattimer, "we have already put measures in place to deal with the traffic issues raised."

The school would not reveal an exact number of pupils it has lined up for its first intake, saying the figure had yet to be finalised. But Dr Lattimer said it would be a four-form entry.

Trinity Free School, which has the backing of 24 of the district's churches, will be funded by the taxpayer but not controlled by Kent County Council, the local education authority. It will be answerable, instead, to the Government.

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