Plans for temporary free school rejected by Torridge District Council

The Route 39 logo.

The Route 39 logo. - Credit: Archant

After a heated debate, councillors voted against temporarily housing the Route 39 Academy at the Milky Way.

PLANS to temporarily house North Devon’s first free school on land at the Milky Way have been dashed by Torridge District Council.

The plans committee met this morning (Thursday) to discuss the application made for temporary portacabin classrooms and a play area by the Route 39 Academy.

Dozens of members of the public packed into Bideford Town Hall wearing Route 39 t-shirts to hear the verdict on the application.

David Fitzsimmons, head teacher of Holsworthy Community College, was the first to speak against the plans.

He said his school, and others in the surrounding area, were struggling to fill all their places and that there was no need for a fifth secondary school.

“The number of pupils is finite,” he said.

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“Research shows you need 900 pupils aged 11-16 to be economically viable.

“I only have 675 and that number is going down.”

But Richard Bence, chair of governors at Route 39, said the school would provide educational choice, and had already filled 60 per cent of the places.

“From our community consultation we had 777 responses,” said Mr Bence.

“More staff at local schools supported Route 39 than opposed it.

“The impact we will have will depend on other schools’ 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.”

Other concerns raised at the meeting by speakers included the effect on the highways system, congestion, and the lack of pavements on the roads leading to the school.

Robin Edmonds, chairman of Woolsery Parish Council, said the parish council had recommended refusal of the application.

He explained Woolsery was made up of single track, class C roads, and could not sustain the amount of traffic the school would generate.

“It’s naïve to believe all those pupils would be using public transport because there’s virtually nothing,” he said.

“And the shortest route to the school is not along the A39, it is through Woolsery.”

During a heated debate, councillors’ views were split with Councillor David Lausen calling the travel plans submitted by the school ‘nonsense’.

“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.”

Councillors took to the vote to approve the application, with three voting for and five against.

The decision was met with a flutter of applause, with one person shouting ‘shame’ from the public gallery, and another saying ‘absolutely perfect’.

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