An education boss has spoken of his “frustration” over a bizarre situation in which the launch of a free school in Catterick Garrison has led to local authority-run schools becoming ineligible for hundreds of thousands of pounds of education contributions levied on housing developments.
A meeting of North Yorkshire County Council heard the authority had refused to seek funding on developments in the Catterick Garrison area since Lingfield Academy, which which runs Mount Pleasant, Hurworth, Heathfield, Corporation Road and Northwood primary schools in Darlington, launched Cambrai Primary School in the heart of the garrison in September.
Central Richmondshire division councillor Helen Grant said while the issue was likely to be replicated across the county wherever a free school was launched, the issue had surfaced in Catterick Garrison when the North Yorkshire authority refused to ask for £136,000 of section 106 developer contributions for schools to offset the effect of building an estate in the town’s Somerset Close.
A full meeting of the North Yorkshire authority was told the council could only legally request funding from developers if a deficit of extra school places was forecast, but following the launch of free school Cambrai School in September there was a large surplus of school places in the area.
Cllr Grant, who is a school governor and deputy leader of Richmondshire District Council, said it could take years for Cambrai School to attract its target of up to 210 pupils from the 25 pupils currently on roll and in the meantime other schools in the area could miss out on vast sums of contributions from developments on their doorsteps.
She said: “What is my problem is the effect it is having on the garrison schools, for example Le Cateau, Wavell and Carnagill.
“We find ourselves in a ridiculous situation where this authority is refusing money because it would appear Cambrai School is in existence. Can it be right that the existence of Cambrai School, an academy, is going to have an adverse effect on all of my schools because it has capacity?”
She urged the council to review the issue, which she said was undoubtedly replicated elsewhere in the county, and to lobby for change so local authority schools are not disadvantaged by the presence of an academy in their areas.
Councillor Patrick Mulligan, the county’s executive member for education, replied saying he shared Cllr Grant’s frustration over what was a complex issue.
He questioned the £136,000 figure Cllr Grant had claimed would have been levied as it had been agreed five years ago and was limited to a housing development that had never been built.
Cllr Mulligan said: “We can only developer contribution where we can demonstrate, using current forecast data, that the pupil yield arising from the development will create a shortfall in places.
“The situation is different now than in 2014 in that we were forecasting higher pupil numbers than is currently the case.
“If we are guilty of anything it is abiding by the letter of the law.
“I agree with Cllr Grant that this needs a closer look at this because we want to make sure that we get proper contributions for education in all of our areas.”
He added Richmondshire council had announced in 2016 that it was going to launch a community infrastructure levy and if the authority had the planning charge in place the district council could use it to generate education funding.
Cllr Grant concluded: “My greater fear is that there is to be so much more development at Catterick Garrison and the location of Cambrai School in the middle of it is likely to have an ongoing impact for many many years.
“I do have grave concerns.”