The country needs more homes, reports Chris Bunting, but can local authorities afford the schools to serve them?
PLANS for hundreds of thousands of new houses across Britain are set to put massive strains on the school system in some areas - urban as well as rural.
A Royal Town Planning Institute survey has revealed that 600,000 "greenfield" homes will be needed across the country over the next 16 years. And with government pressure to build more "brownfield" houses on reclaimed urban land, council planners fear the system for financing new schools will not be able to cope.
The South-east is expected to bear the brunt of the demand. By 2016, about 678,000 new households are forecast in London alone, according to government figures. All London boroughs are facing planning demands for significant numbers of new homes.
Tony Williams, assistant director of education for Newham, east London, said he faced a "worst possible scenario" of having to build at least two primary schools and a secondary to cater for children living on the new estates.
Currently, the council would have to fund most of the pound;24 million, he said. "We could end up taking a large proportion of the region's new homes because we have several sites. There could be a big effect on education."
Officers were preparing to lobby planners and ministers to ensure that the effects were limited by allocating a large proportion of the new housing to single occupants rather than families.
"If we had 1,000 three-bedroom homes and they were owner occupied, we would be talking about a complete primary school of 420 pupils and 400-500 secondary places," he said. These homes are often bought by couples planning to start a family.
However, if "it was social housing, then we would have up to two-and-a-half times the number of pupils," he said, as whole families would move in.
Currently, the Government requires precise figures on new pupil numbers, Mr Williams said. This was usually only possible near the end of the planning process and meant that schools were often still building sites as families began to move in.
The cost of providing places was often double government borrowing approvals, he added.
John Lett, of the London Planning Advisory Committee, said many authorities were trying to make developers donate cash for new schools before giving planning permission. However, the law made it difficult to force small developers to contribute A spokesperson for the Department for Education and Employment said that councils should be able to plan future provision on the basis of the current funding formula. But the department was aware of the need for greater stability and predicatability in funding and was looking at ways of achieving this.