Deadlock over school site’s future

Thetford Academy.
Thetford Academy.

The future of the ex-Charles Burrell school site is in the balance after Norfolk County Council insisted on charging a new Free School more than £30,000 a year in rent.

The Thetford Alternative Provision Free School will have to pay £32,500 a year from September if it wants to move into the current Thetford Academy South building after the county council said it wants full value for the lease.

But the Department for Education (DfE) - who will directly fund the Free School - have balked at the price and are now at loggerheads with the council over the cost.

A spokesman for the DfE said: “The site that the proposers have identified is well suited for the new school.

“The council’s attempt to charge £32,500 of rent for this land would be an inappropriate use of tax payers’ money for a school that will serve the local community.”

The school was one of only 12 of its kind in the country to be given the go ahead to open last July after a two year battle.

It has since been working to find a home for the school and had high hopes for the Staniforth Road site.

Peter Weavers, asset management director of NPS Property Consultants, acting on behalf of Norfolk County Council, said it recognised the importance of the Free School but needed to get ‘value for money’.

“One way of achieving this is to ensure it utilises publicly owned and maintained assets efficicently on behalf of residents and council taxpayers, which includes maximising the value of assets and using them to generate income.

“The council’s view is that it should expect, on council taxpayers’ behalf, to achieve a realistic rent from an asset that has been owned and maintained with their support over many years.”

The DfE said it is yet to initiate any legal proceedings, but can call on the Academies Act to take on the site.

Schedule 1 of the act allows the Secretary of State to ‘compulsorily transfer’ the land as it was used as a school, meaning it would go into DfE hands.