Beds, Herts & Bucks

Bedford Free School opens despite planning refusal

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Media captionSchool principal Mark Lehan says the building has planning permission for educational use

A free school in Bedfordshire has opened for the first day of term despite planning permission being refused twice.

Nearly 200 pupils turned up to Bedford Free School, housed in a former Bedford College building in Cauldwell Street.

The council rejected a second planning application which attempted to address concerns about traffic congestion.

The school has lodged an appeal with the government's Planning Inspectorate and said "it is business as usual".

Bedford Free School, for pupils aged 11 to 13, was due to open in September 2011 but was delayed by a lack of premises.

A new building was found, but Bedford Borough Council decided letting it open opposite the college would cause too much disruption.

School governors said legal advice suggested planning permission granted to Bedford College for the building's change of use was sufficient to allow them to open as planned.

'Put at risk'

The revised plans which went before the council in August, prevented parent pick-up and drop-offs near the building and the school said it is implementing these traffic safety measures.

Councillor David Sawyer said planning permission was refused because of "concerns about the safety of children".

"Cauldwell Street is one of the busiest parts of Bedford and we have got to be absolutely sure that no child is put at risk by having a school right in the middle of a busy one-way system," he said.

"I just hope the government inspector takes the concerns expressed by the council about the safety of the children as seriously as we do and doesn't simply overrule us as is so often the case."

Principal Mark Lehain said he was "confident" the school would still be open at the end of September after the government made the "right decision".

"We have already got the right planning permission that we need to open in this building.

"There is a bit of a conflict about that between us and the council, but as far as we are concerned it is business as usual."

The appeal will be heard by the Planning Inspectorate on 25 September.

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