LEEDS may not have enough land to build scores of new schools it will need in the wake of swathes of new housing which could be built in the city by 2028.
The YEP understands that up to 72 new ‘one-form entry’ primary schools - or 36 two-form ones - would have to be built in Leeds to deal with the demand of new housing, if proposals for up to 66,000 new homes to be built by 2028 go ahead as envisaged. However the council has so far only been able to identify sites for 46.5 single form schools.
As part of a major housing regeneration masterplan covering the next 13 years, Leeds City Council has earmarked dozens of potential sites for schools in its newly published Site Allocations Plan and has promised to take a “cautious approach” to ensure there is no “strategic shortfall of provisions” in education.
But it is left - according to a sub-report called ‘Implications for school places’ - with some problems, particularly in high density areas.
For example in Woodhouse, which forms part of the ‘inner city’ area which will get more than a third of the total housing, the council admits there is concern because the existing land is “exhausted” and the planning document has identified “insufficient solutions”. Other areas are seen as “risky” due to similar problems.
Councillor Judith Blake, the council’s executive board member for schools, admitted the authority faces an “enormous challenge in terms of the future planning for the city”.
“Obviously there are some areas of the city where there is higher density and we are looking for creative solutions all the time,” she told the YEP.
She acknowledged that “difficulties” remain, but she blamed this largely on Government policy, and a shortfall of £40m in Government funding for the council’s ongoing primary schools expansion programme.
The money had been directed to the free schools programme dictated by Whitehall, rather than allowing the council autonomy to plan and build its own schools, she said.
However she said the authority is continuing to” track forward for birth rates in the city”, which have now stabilised after a “steep rise” in recent years, and this will help with schools planning in the context of the housing masterplan.
She also pledged to push developers to ensure they make the maximum contributions possible to schools provision in their house-building plans.
Despite the reassurances, political opponents have expressed “extreme concern”.
Councillor Alan Lamb, education spokesman for the council’s opposition Conservative group, said the main issue was that the council’s ruling administration was insisting on “blithely pushing ahead” with its high housing target number, which rises to 70,000 potentially when some smaller unallocated sites are taken into account.
“I am extremely concerned about the provision of school places in Leeds over the coming years, in particular the huge projected shortfall in the city centre and inner city areas,” councillor Lamb said,
“We have consistently argued that the target of 70,000 homes across the city is unrealistically high and is based on questionable data.
“When the council’s own report identifies a ‘high degree of risk’ about providing a sufficient number of school places to match the demand caused by the number of houses the council wants, then something is clearly seriously wrong. Yet the administration is blithely pushing ahead. Of course, perhaps the school places situation wouldn’t be so precarious if the council also abandoned its ideological opposition to free schools, and instead helped educational providers to put in place the schools we need, for the benefit of our young people.”