Planning applications for development of schools can be contentious and often receive a number of objections from local residents. Whilst we advocate effective community engagement in respect of any development, recent changes to permitted development rights which came into force on 21 April 2021 allow for bigger extensions to existing schools without the requirement to apply for planning permission (subject to certain limitations).
From 21 April 2021, the erection, extension, or alteration of a school building is permitted development provided that:
- The footprint of the extended/new building is no more than 25% of the footprint of the existing building (as it was on 21 April 2021) or 250sqm, whichever is greater.
- the proposed development is not within 5m of the boundary of any residential facilities.
- The height of any new building does not exceed 6m (or 5m if within 10m of a boundary of the curtilage of the premises).
- The height of the building if extended or altered does not exceed its existing height (but if within 10m of the boundary of the curtilage it cannot exceed the lesser of 5m or its existing height).
- The height of any rooftop structure does not exceed 1.5m.
- Any land within the premises which has been used as a playing field in the last five years (and is still used for this purpose) could continue to be used as a playing field after the development has taken place.
- If the school is located within a conservation area, AONB, The Broads, a National Park, World Heritage Site or an area specified by the Secretary of State under s41(3) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (we can advise if you are unsure) then the materials used on the new or extended building have a similar external appearance to existing buildings.
- The building in question is not listed or in the curtilage of a listed building.
- The development is within the curtilage of buildings where the predominant use is for the provision of education and the new building will also be used for this purpose (or purposes incidental to it).
- where a new or altered school building will result in an increase to the school’s published admission number, a travel plan (a framework for delivering sustainable travel to and from the school) is required to be submitted to the local planning authority (LPA) within six months of completion of the extension.
Although these rights apply equally to independent or local authority run schools in general, as confirmed recently in the courts, the primary purpose of the site must be for the provision of education of school-age children i.e. up to the age of 18 – although permitted development rights do also exist for colleges and universities.
Recent case law has also clarified that permitted development rights for schools were not available to facilities which used the word ‘school’ with qualification, for example, ballet school or night school. It will be important to bear this in mind when selecting suitable land to carry out permitted development within a wider landholding.
There may also be restrictions on earlier planning permissions, or restrictions placed on use of permitted development rights within certain areas (issued by the LPA as ‘Article 4 Directions’) which may prevent reliance on these new permitted development rights. If there is any doubt, further advice should be sought before proceeding.
In addition, if the building in question has already relied upon permitted development rights in respect of its erection or its lawful use, there are restrictions on the ability to rely on this right and further advice should be sought before proceeding.
The provision of, or replacement of hardstanding up to 50sqm, subject to conditions relating to its permeability is also a permitted development right which can be relied upon by schools. This pre-existing right may help schools to increase play areas so that social distancing is made easier.
Impact on schools
The changes to permitted development rights will potentially help to deliver more classroom space and/or enhanced facilities by enabling schools to extend more quickly and easily, particularly as a response to the pandemic and other changing circumstances.
Use of these rights will not require an application to the LPA which minimises the impact of objections and avoids the need to have to justify the new buildings with reference to planning policy, focusing instead on the best interests of the school and its pupils.