The playing field of planning policy, Q&A on Education with Mike Jones.

27.1.23 3 MINUTE READ

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Following a busy year working on multiple school planning projects across the East of England, Planning Partner Mike Jones answers questions on the role of education in the ever-moving playing field of planning policy and his wider experience of education in the planning process.

Q1: Are there any notable changes in the current consultation document of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) pursuant to Education and or Schools?

MJ: Education remains identified at para 20 of the NPPF under the definition of ‘community facilities’ requiring strategic policies to set out an overall strategy for the pattern, scale and design quality of places. However, we now have the new additional wording of to ensure outcomes support beauty and placemaking’. Otherwise, its business as usual with only paragraph rewording with the most important text at para 95 now para 97, which establishes the weight that should be attributed to planning decisions.

Q2: What are the implications of these changes?

For education the changes are minimal if notable at all. However, the added vagueness of the overarching text ‘support beauty’ is unhelpful. What planning doesn’t need is anymore ambiguity and terminology that is subjective and hard to measure. Like any civic building, design is of significance importance in planning terms, but it is also highly subjective. Furthermore, school design is in many cases highly prescriptive from the Department for Education (DfE) guidance, Building Regulations and in many instances faculty and curriculum led.

Q3: What improvements do you feel could be made?

MJ: MJ: Greater clarity on design and the meaning of beauty would be helpful. Additional National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPG) or more specific references to how District Design Guides/Codes will address design/beauty and or specifically school design would be welcome. Many Local Authorities already have Design Guidance, which includes provision for Schools.

Q4: What barriers or common issues often occur in the planning process?

MJ: It can vary greatly depending on the nature of the school project, whether it is:

  • previously developed land
  • the expansion of an existing constrained school
  • a new school upon greenfield land.

However, often, the key issues centre on matters such as traffic and car parking and public interfaces such as entrances and principal facades or impacts upon neighbour amenity such as light or noise from sports pitches or games areas. Moving forward biodiversity net gain (enhancement) will conflict with constraints in providing play and sports pitches as well.

As alluded to earlier paragraph 95 (soon to be 97) is the fulcrum for any educational scheme.

Q5: What good practice can be followed to avoid or address these issues?

MJ: Forward planning is vital, too often education projects progress through to stage 3 design without planning input. Local knowledge is always helpful, particularly bespoke policy and guidance particular to a local area, which is often missed.

Tackling head on general perceptions of schools is also integral to avoiding ambiguity and negative comments from local authority consultees or the local community. Pre-application advice and or community engagement is always useful to draw out issues and common misconceptions, and to also gauge positive input from key contributors, such as parents.

The narrative is also important, how you phrase and present the issues of scheme viability and design are of utmost importance. For example, depending on the type of school, the budget and specific requirements will only go so far, whether it is IT suites, community use for Multi-Use Game Areas (MUGA’s) SEN provision, hydrotherapy pools or coach parking. This is where the planning balance can be essential to the success of gaining permission. Lastly the sustainability credentials of the building should be centre stage of the planning benefits, as net zero in operation should not be overlooked and attributed its appropriate weight.

Mike has led on various successful school schemes working with Local Authorities, School Promoters and stakeholders all on the behalf of the Delivery Partner (Constructors). Some notable projects are set out below within the following case studies:

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Mike Jones

Partner, Planning

Mike is a Chartered Town Planner with 19+ years’ experience and knowledge across an array of sectors.

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