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Question to Kent County Council [with answer], 18 July 2013: Maidstone Academy Lease

July 9, 2013 9:36 AM

Question by Mr B Clark to the Cabinet Member for Corporate and Democratic Services

As a local resident I am aware of local fears that the terms of the 125 year lease due to be signed between KCC and Future Schools in South Maidstone are unfavourable given how much of the land will be considered for residential development, when a KCC Special Needs School at the site will be left with insufficient land to expand.

In light of the current localism agenda, would the Cabinet Member for Corporate and Democratic Services inform the Council what attempts are being made to engage with Five Acre Wood School and the North Loose Residents Association, representing 1100 residents, and what can be done to ensure that the interests of Five Acre Wood School, and the serious concerns of local residents, especially with regard to the likely increase in traffic and the potential loss of a historic farm site, shared by many groups beyond the Academy, are considered prior to signing?

Answer

Thank you Chairman and before responding to Mr Clark's question could I remind Council that I have a personal interest in that I am the KCC appointed governor at the Future Schools Trust, covering not only the New Line Learning Academy in Loose, but also the Cornwallis Academy in Linton and more recently the Tiger Primary Free School.

Chairman, the amount of land to be transferred to Future Schools Trust is governed by statute and subject to a legal agreement dating back to 2007. The process whereby schools became academies in 2007 was prescriptive and includes the 125 year period of the lease and all the land and assets deemed to be in "school use" at that time. There was and is no requirement for the schools to demonstrate any particular need for the land, only that the land which included the school farm was used by the school. I am advised that KCC is not able to withhold it's consent to the lease, and were it to do so that the Secretary of State would order the transfer of the site in line with legislation.

We do not as a matter of policy transfer any more land to schools becoming academies, than we are required to under the relevant statutes.

As far as consultation is concerned, there was a public consultation in 2007 when the formal decision to close the predecessor schools was taken and to establish the academies. As both New Line Learning and Cornwallis were completely rebuilt there would also have been the opportunity for public engagement through the planning process. Hence there was adequate opportunity for views to be taken into account at that time.

At this time no decisions have been taken to dispose of any parts of the academy site, although I am aware that there have been some discussions with a developer in respect of the playing fields. Under the terms of the lease the Academy Trust is not able to dispose of any land without the consent of the freeholder, KCC. At the appropriate time, should KCC wish to proceed with any dispersal of land at the site a decision will be sought in accordance with the Council's constitution and the relevant property management protocols. If this were to result in proposals for development, then those proposals will be subject to planning processes where a range of local stakeholders and residents will have the opportunity to make comments on such proposals.

In relation to Five Acre Wood, I would say that as part of our Special School Review we are committed to address both the building suitability issues at the special school as well as its potential expansion. I can confirm that work is underway to ensure the future viability of the school and a number of options are under discussion. These discussions have and will continue to involve the special school with whom we have an excellent relationship and we will continue to keep the school fully up to date with developments related to the on-going site management issues. The school have been kept fully informed.