Route 39 Academy vows to appeal as councillors go against advice and reject plans for school’s temporary site.
NORTH Devon’s first free school vows it will fight to open in September after councillors rejected plans for its temporary site.
Route 39 Academy intended to open at the Milky Way this year before moving to a permanent site near Bucks Cross.
But Torridge District Council’s plans committee refused planning permission for the temporary classrooms and playground on Thursday.
Joss Glossop, principal of the school, said Route 39 was ‘extremely disappointed’ in the five councillors who voted to refuse the application and the school would appeal.
“We feel they made the wrong decision and we have strong grounds for an appeal,” she said.
“There was always going to be a slim chance this was going to happen so we do have other irons in the fire.
“We have 60 families signed up and fantastic first year teaching staff in place; I feel secure in saying that we will be opening in September.”
The application for the site, which received 95 letters of support and 91 letters of objection, was recommended for approval by planning officers.
But councillors flagged up issues with the sustainability of the school and the impact on the roads.
During a heated debate Councillor David Lausen called the travel plans submitted by the school ‘nonsense’.
He echoed points made earlier in the meeting by David Fitzsimmons, the head teacher of Holsworthy Community College.
Mr Fitzsimmons claimed there was no need for a fifth secondary school in the area, and the number of pupils in the area was ‘finite’.
He said secondary schools needed 900 pupils to be economically viable but Holsworthy Community College only had 675 ‘and that number was going down’.
“The points made by Mr Fitzsimmons are absolutely spot on,” said Cllr Lausen.
“It’s not a free school; it’s a very expensive school, taking money from tax payers.”
Councillor Kathy Murdoch echoed Cllr Lausen’s views, saying she didn’t believe the plans for the school were sustainable.
But Councillor Chris Leather said he saw no reason to refuse the plans, and moved to approve them.
“West Buckland school can hardly be counted as sustainable; Shebbear College is in a rural location; both are very successful,” he said.
“I have always thought we needed another secondary school in the Bideford area.”
Richard Bence, chairman of governors for the school, also dismissed councillors’ claims the school was unsustainable.
“I find the assumption acutely hypocritical as being chairman of Welcombe Parish Council we are being asked by Torridge to plan for additional housing,” he said.
“If a location on the A39 is unsustainable I don’t know on what grounds they believe a village three miles from it is less unsustainable.”
At the meeting, Mr Bence said the impact Route 39 had on other schools in the area would depend on their responses to new competition.
“No school in the area is currently rated as outstanding by Ofsted. We want to bring an exemplary school to the area,” he said.
On the Gazette website, our story reporting the outcome of the planning meeting received dozens of comments for and against the proposed school.
Thousands of you also took to our online poll with 59 per cent agreeing with the council’s decision to reject the plans.
Route 39 Academy confirmed it was working ‘flat out’ with the Education Funding Agency to open in September and hoped to announce more next week.