Councillors forced to scrap £49k contribution to high school places near new Lancaster homes

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A potential £49,000 contribution to high school places near new homes being built in south Lancaster has been scrapped because of alleged county council shortcomings.

Plans for 22 new homes north of Rectory Gardens in Cockerham had previously included a proposed £49,000 for extra places at Ripley St Thomas CE Academy.

The application was approved in spring 2023, and incuded the proposed education contribution. Rules mean contributions must be spent close to the development.

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But since then, Lancashire County Council’s education department had suggested the money go elsewhere, such as Garstang Community High School or Central Lancaster High School.

Ripley St Thomas CE Academy.Ripley St Thomas CE Academy.
Ripley St Thomas CE Academy.

At the latest Lancaster City Council planning committee, planning officers and councillors claimed there was a lack of detailed information and ‘creative thinking’ from the county about the situation and potential alternatives.

The proposed education money was linked to the Community Infrastructure Levy, a tax paid to councils by developers. Other proposals at Cockerham, such as affordable homes and public open space linked to planning conditions, will still go ahead.

Planning officer Mark Jackson said: “Officers have been working hard to identify local projects in a small radius. But at the moment, county education [department] are not giving us that information. It has to be a secondary school and local to the development.

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“We have been seeking county comment about where we can use this locally. They have identified projects but out of our area.”

Some of the house styles planned for  land north of Rectory Gardens in Cockerham.Some of the house styles planned for  land north of Rectory Gardens in Cockerham.
Some of the house styles planned for land north of Rectory Gardens in Cockerham.

Coun Paul Tynan said: “I’m a bit confused. Why are we accepting these new homes when we have nowhere for the children to go?

Mr Jackson said: “Ripley St Thomas is the nearest school but it cannot be expanded. This matter coming back to us is far from ideal, but we have got to make a decision.”

Coun Tynan replied: “I understand, but is it not implicit that they would provide £49,000 towards a place for these children? We’re building all these houses but where are children going to go?”

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Mr Jackson said: “It’s complicated and projections vary over time. That’s why we go back to education. Agreements can take time. They now say there is [enough] capacity at Ripley St Thomas. There are peaks and troughs with school capacity and demand. I understand your point but we have to look at things at this moment in time.”

Coun Tynan added: “It seems like there are two moments in time – one time when we ask and one time when they reply.”

Mr Jackson said: “When members approved this at the time, £49,000 was still relevant. But because of time, we have asked the question again. That’s why we are in this position.”

Coun Sally Maddocks asked if the £49,000 could be put into reserves or a Cockerham ‘pot’ but was told it had to be identified at the time and local to the development.

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Committee chair Coun Sandra Thornberry recommended accepting the officers’ new recommendation to remove the money.

But she said: “It’s really annoying that the developer gets away with not coughing up £49,000. I see the issues. However, there is space at Central Lancaster High.”

Coun Dennison said councillors had ‘grave concerns and disappointment’ about not being able to utilise the money in the Lancaster district.

Some abstained or voted against the recommendation, but it was carried, despite Coun Maddocks also unsuccessfully suggesting it be deferred.

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