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Ministers call time on Gove's pub ambitions

Michael Gove's plans to make it easier for free schools to open in buildings including old pubs and betting shops suffered a blow this week after he was forced to water down his reforms to planning regulations.

One of the biggest obstacles to the education secretary's pet policy has been the difficulties encountered by interested groups in finding sites.

Last year, Mr Gove called for planning rules to be torn up and rewritten to make it easier for new schools to be established.

He said parents and teacher groups looking to set up free schools were forced to plough through hundreds of pages of "bureaucratic nonsense".

But changes to the planning regulations announced by ministers this week showed local councils only need to have a "presumption" in favour of a school and proposals for schools can still be refused on planning grounds.

Rachel Wolf, director of the New Schools Network, a charity that helps free-school applicants, said the changes did not go as far as expected.

"They will go some way to reversing the current trend of free schools being opened in largely wealthy areas, but the Government had hoped to abolish the (planning) requirements when it came to opening a school," Ms Wolf said. "That is not what they have done. You still have to apply for planning, which is time-consuming."

Mr Gove had hoped to see free schools open in shops and even houses, but in response to the Government's consultation document on the subject the public was significantly opposed to such plans.

Speaking of the changes to the planning laws, Mr Gove said: "We urgently need more good school places. Red tape must not be a barrier."

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