Proposed expansion of Baytree School

We will provide updates and information on this page about the process we are following to expand Baytree Special School.

The expansion will take the school from operating as a single site school at The Campus in Weston-super-Mare that currently caters for around 72 children, to a two-site school with a new provision for between 65 and 85 pupils off Brookfield Walk in Clevedon.

The two sites should be able to offer around 120 school places across both locations. Subject to a review by the courts, the second site is scheduled to be available to pupils from 2023.

Where we are now

Baytree School is the only school in North Somerset designated to provide education to children with severe and profound learning difficulties. The school needs to be able to offer more places to meet increasing demand.

You can see the statistics that outline the reasoning behind the proposed expansion in our Baytree consultation key facts and figures document.

Construction work was expected to start on the Brookfield Walk site in October 2021. This is now on hold while we await the outcome of a Judicial Review claim registered with the courts on 18 October 2021.

Statutory processes

We have followed a number of statutory processes as part of the approval procedure to expand Baytree School.

Expanding maintained schools

This is the school organisation process to change the place value (admission number) and location of a school. The council is the decision-maker for this process and the final decision will be made by the Executive.

Planning permission

This is the statutory process to seek approval to build the new school. The decision whether to grant planning permission is made by our Planning and Regulatory Committee.

As the development is above a certain size within designated green belt land, there have been objections from the Environment Agency. In line with regulations, the application was referred to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The Secretary of State has the power to call in an application for determination. In this case, the Secretary of State confirmed he is content that it should be determined by the Local Planning Authority. 

The planning application was registered in April 2020 and a Notice of Decision granting consent to the the building works and its facilities was made on 6 September 2021. Early site construction planning conditions have been met and were confirmed as agreed on 18 October 2021. 

On 18 October 2021, a judicial review claim was received by the courts challenging the decision-making process.  

Appropriation

This is the process that allows us to change the purpose for which we hold a piece of land. The decision is made by the Executive Member for Asset Management.

A decision was made by the Executive Member for Asset Management in July 2021 to allow this change to proceed.

On 18 October 2021, a judicial review claim was received by the courts challenging this decision-making process.  

Town and village green

While not part of the council’s processes, an application was made in October 2019 for the land at Brookfield Walk to be designated as a town and village green. The application was rejected at a meeting of our Planning and Regulatory Committee in August 2020.

School organisation

Background

There is no legal requirement to carry out consultations before publicising an intention to make changes to a school. We held a consultation in September and October 2019 about the need to expand Baytree School onto a second site in Clevedon.

We received 428 responses. 96% were in favour of creating the extra places, and 90% said they supported proposals to do this by expanding into a purpose-built school on a second site.

It was clear from the responses that

  • there was support for the need for a new school site
  • the proposed location for the new site was not supported by all

Due to the consultation responses, working through the necessary steps to secure a site with planning approval has delayed the progress of the expansion. Before a decision is taken that will result in the allocation of school places, the council needs to be certain that it can deliver the new site and that the school will be ready to receive pupils. Only when there is a reasonable expectation of delivery, can a decision to deliver the expansion be made.

It has been almost two years since we completed the original consultation. We are in the process of checking that the initial views of respondents have not significantly changed.  An update consultation will run from 20 September – 22 October 2021 inclusive.  

Details of the responses to this consultation will be shared in due course. 

The need for the school places is urgent. Without planning approval to build or expand a school site, the process to enable extra school places and the publication of a notice confirming all approvals cannot easily be progressed. 

We expect many earlier responses will still stand, but we want to hear from those who may have changed their opinions since 2019. These may or may not influence the formal publishing of the public notice that will set out our firm proposals.

Whilst we are awaiting the outcome of the judicial review process, a date for the publication of the public notice and final school organisation determination may need to be reviewed. Only the Church of England Diocese or the Roman Catholic Diocese have the right of appeal.

Matters for consideration

The school organisation consultation is interested in views of whether or not

  • an expansion of Baytree School is needed to meet local demand
  • if a second site is required to meet the needs of those with profound needs as the current one is no longer fully suitable.

While linked, responses and the determinations relevant to the planning application and appropriation process are not relevant to this decision-making process.

Planning permission and the proposed site

Background

The planning application was submitted on Thursday 29 April 2020.

Initially, 13 potential sites for the expansion of Baytree School were reviewed and land at Brookfield Walk in Clevedon was identified as the most suitable location.

The Local Planning Authority requested the search was widened to include all possible sites across North Somerset. A further review of 528 sites, including the Brookfield site, was independently undertaken. The alternative sites assessment concluded that Brookfield Walk was the only viable option. The alternative sites assessment can be found on the planning portal.

Retaining the maximum number of trees and hedgerows has been integral to the design of the school. Additional trees will be planted to compensate for losses from initial tree removals. Landscape design is in line with our rewilding policy, with the purpose of creating new habitats to enable wildlife to flourish as well as helping to address climate change. Rewilding takes various forms throughout the scheme, including:

  • planting of trees, which will provide a habitat for a wide range of wildlife, giving both food, as well as carbon capture
  • establishment of conservation grasses, which can be allowed to grow, allowing a range of grass species to develop, increasing biodiversity benefits for both flora and fauna
  • potential areas identified for flower meadows, providing an attractive setting, opportunities for education, as well as biodiversity benefits

A resolution to grant planning permission was made by our Planning and Regulatory Committee on Thursday 16 September 2020. This resolution was subject to the inclusion of conditions on the planning permission and receipt of a satisfactory air quality assessment report and noise impact assessments.

A referral of the application to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government was carried out as we were inclined to support a planning application involving the development in the Green Belt and for development in a flood risk area. The Environment Agency had objected to the latter as they required further information.

In January 2021, the Environment Agency withdrew their objection. This was following receipt of more information about the flood and emergency evacuation plan that reassured them that with agreed mitigations in place, there was no undue risk in relation to major flooding. A safe evacuation from the site could be achieved in an emergency.

The Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government then determined that he would not call in the application for determination and the application could be decided locally. This is confirmed in his letter dated Monday 29 March.

Next steps

Noise assessments have been carried out and a report and recommendations were submitted to the local planning authority in August 2021. This report can be viewed on our our planning portal website.

An additional three months of air quality (in addition to an earlier three-month assessment) was requested by the planning authority and this ended in July 2021. These findings have been submitted to the local planning authority and the report has been uploaded. The planning authority have accepted that the noise and air quality assessments meet planning requirements.

Because of the amount of time since the original submission, more ecological surveys have been carried out. An updated ecological appraisal assessing potential changes in condition or presence of protected species since the original appraisal submitted with the application (Bentham-Green, S. 2020) is now available. This has been done to identify any apparent or potential ecological constraints to the works and provide recommendations, as appropriate, to enable compliance with planning policy and wildlife legislation. The report confirmed the condition of the 13 habitat types remained similar to that previously recorded, with the exception that some of the dense scrub and tall ruderal vegetation previously present beneath the line of trees bisecting the centre of the site had been removed by approved clearance according to the original method statement. You can read the assessment on the planning portal.

On Monday 6 September 2021, a decision notice was published granting consent to the erection of an up to 85 place, single storey Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties School (use class D1) for 3yrs to 19yrs including classrooms, recreation hall, dining hall, hydro-therapy pool and therapy rooms plus external play areas, parking and amenity space.  Initial planning condition requirements have been approved.

Whilst planning approval is in place, as a judicial review claim has been made to the courts, the council accepts that it would not be appropriate to begin building work on the new school until the court has considered the application.

Matters for consideration

Many feel that a school or development should not and cannot be progressed on a green belt site. Paragraph 145 of the National Planning Policy Framework states that “inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the green belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances."  

For the second site for Baytree School to be possible the Children’s Services Directorate had to prove that very special circumstances exist. In such cases the need for a special school can over-ride the green belt restrictions.

Building a special school on green belt land isn’t unique to North Somerset. In appeal cases to the planning inspectorate - reference APP/Y3615/W/16/3151098 and reference  APP/C4235/W/18/3205559 - the Secretary of State allowed a special school to be built on green belt land, finding that “Overall, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the need for the proposed development has been robustly made out. He considers that the improved provision for special needs education, specifically for those with very complex special educational needs and disabilities that cannot be met elsewhere, in both quantitative and qualitative terms, carries substantial weight.”

The report to our Planning and Regulatory Committee identified while the proposed site is in green belt land, the need for the school outweighs the restrictive green belt policies.

Local residents maintain that the land at Brookfield Walk had been given to the local community as open space and as such both the designation of the fields as a town and village green and its green belt designation should prevent any development of the site.

We sought specialist independent legal advice from Leslie Blohm QC, who provided legal opinion advising the refusal of the TVG application. The reason given to recommend refusal of the application was: ‘the entirety of the application land is held by local authorities and statutory bodies on a statutory basis that is inconsistent with registration of the land as a town or village green.’ The same opinion was referenced within the planning submission. Subject to an appropriation process, there was no previous agreement in place that prevents us from submitting and developing the site for a school, subject to all necessary approvals.

Appropriation

Background

When a council needs to change the use of its land, where this has previously been used for another purpose, such as open space, a legal process must be followed under Section 122 of the Local Government Act 1972 to change the purpose for which land is held. This is called appropriation. The appropriation process is separate from planning policy and school organisation process and relates to our legal duties as the landowner of pieces of land.

In making our decision, we can seek to strike the balance between comparative and potentially competing public interests: between the need for one use of the land and another, according to its judgement of the balance of wider community needs and interests.

Public notices advising we would consider representations submitted before noon on Wednesday 5 May 2021 were published in local newspapers on Wednesday 14 and Wednesday 21 April.

We received a total of 647 representations to the public notices of the proposed appropriation:

  • 54 were individual letters or emails - 27 representations in support and 27 objections
  • 346 objections were based on a standard form of objection and 247 objections were based on a second standard form of objection

All responses were considered in full by the executive member.

The decision to appropriate the land at Brookfield Walk to be used for the development of a school for children with special educational needs and disabilities was made and the report published on Monday 19 July 2021. 

The report contains a review of the responses received.

Next steps

Our Director of Place will amend the use of Brookfield Walk from open space to a school site on our records. It can now be used as a school site, although this change is being challenged through a judicial review process.

Matters for consideration

We acknowledge the importance of the sites to local residents and did not take the decisions to grant planning permission at committee (subject to conditions) or appropriate the land lightly. On balance it was felt that the loss of this space could be justified because of the benefits to the wider community of the provision of the school.

The impact on the wellbeing of users of the site was noted, and it is acknowledged that particularly in recent times, it has been a significant resource during lockdown. Its use as a school was, however, weighed against the longer term need and the much more limited – and permanently diminished – opportunities of pupils with severe and profound learning difficulties in North Somerset. The relative benefit to the pupils, their families, and the wider community in having this capacity available is considered to be greater than the local benefits to users of the site.

The school site is next to a community orchard. The community orchard will not form part of the school site. It is proposed that this will remain within the ownership of Clevedon Town Council and pedestrian access will be provided from Brookfield Walk to the orchard outside of the school grounds. Vehicular access, when required for maintenance for example, will be through the school site by arrangement with the school.

Useful links

The proposed expansion is part of the Children’s Services Strategy to provide more places for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

The 2017/18 Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and Alternative Provision Review acknowledged the growing number of children and young people with identified SEND and our responsibility to provide appropriately to meet their diverse needs as locally as possible.

A report outlining the need to expand Baytree Special School was presented to the Children and Young People’s Services Policy and Scrutiny Panel at their meeting in June 2019.

Our commissioning strategy 2021-2024 outlines our approach to making sure there is the right number of pre-school and school places in North Somerset: This latest commissioning strategy was approved by the Executive on 23 June 2021. The final document is now being formatted for publication on our website for the beginning of September 2021.

Media releases

You may be interested in the media releases for this scheme.