Architects positive on Gove's plans for free schools
Education Secretary Michael Gove’s plans to relax planning rules to make it easier to turn derelict hospitals, shops and pubs into “free schools” received a cautious welcome from the architectural sector, Building Design reported.
A forthcoming education bill will change planning rules to permit the redesignation of commercial and residential buildings for use as schools. Gove hopes this will help parents who want to open schools in expensive inner city areas.
The RIBA said it was “broadly supportive” because of the work it would provide for architects and the carbon emissions that would be saved by retrofitting existing buildings.
But architects warned that myriad other regulations could stop the idea in its tracks, from health and safety to disability access laws.
Architect Brian Vermuelen, of education specialist Cottrell & Vermeulen, said: “It’s a really interesting idea making it easier to recycle buildings, but beware the cost of adapting them.
“There are some major building regulations and other issues that would have to be looked at such as acoustics, access, fire regs, health and safety, classroom size, asbestos. Where would you hold assembly? Would there be a playground?”
Jonathan Ellis Miller of Ellis Miller Architects welcomed Gove’s announcement and called for a radical rethink of what a school is.
“If they are just going to build schools for middle-class parents or religious groups they would be missing the more interesting ideas of dispersed community schools,” he said. “They don’t quite look like the schools we are building through BSF or the academies programme, but they have their place.”
For instance, he suggested, a derelict factory could be turned into an art studio while an empty office could be used to teach computer and secretarial skills.
He also offered to draw up some model free schools for Gove, in something of an olive branch after architects’ fury over the minister’s criticism of BSF architects.
Ian Dungavell, director of the Victorian Society, said that many older buildings were well-suited to conversion. But he warned that while the plans could be good news for some derelict buildings, they could lead to dwindling numbers at unpopular schools, which would then struggle to maintain their own buildings.