Dunmow development plans for all-through school 'has fallen through'

The current design of the proposed new school. Photo: Mid Group/Bond Bryan.

Archive: A design released in 2020 of the proposed new school. Photo: Mid Group/Bond Bryan. - Credit: Mid Group/Bond Bryan

The developer whose work would have led to Dunmow's new all-through school being created is "no longer interested", a councillor has said.

Essex County Councillor Susan Barker's comments come after Uttlesford District Council refused the planning application to convert the existing Helena Romanes School site into 200 homes.

It had been given unanimous approval by Essex County Council's development and regulation committee in March 2021, but the draft plans were rejected by Uttlesford District Council planning committee in September.

The redevelopment would have effectively moved plans forward for a new all-through school in Stortford Road. It was supposed to open this September.

Essex County Council and Saffron Academy Trust say they remain firmly committed to exploring all available options to deliver the project.

The trust is appealing Uttlesford District Council’s decision to refuse the homes over affordable housing concerns.

In the interim, Essex County Council has been working with HRS to ensure there are sufficient primary school places for Great Dunmow by installing temporary demountable classrooms on the site of HRS for the first tranche of students starting at Helena Romanes primary school.

It has committed to continue to grow as it admits additional cohorts into reception in future academic years. 

‘We are at a stalemate’

Cllr Susan Barker, Conservatives

Cllr Susan Barker represents Dunmow on Essex County Council - Credit: Susan Barker

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Councillor Susan Barker, who represents Dunmow on Essex County Council, said: “Helena Romanes have said they are looking to create more reception places this year. The only way of doing that is adding more temporary space.

“It is not the best solution, I do appreciate.”

She added: “We are at a stalemate. Part of the picture is the sale of the existing site.

“And the Uttlesford planning committee turned down planning on the basis there wasn’t enough affordable housing.

“My understanding is the developer who was interested is now no longer interested.”

The impasse comes after plans for a different school fell though due to disagreements over land values.

Permission for a new primary free school has already been approved for the Smith’s Farm site, just off Chelmsford Road, with the first intake of students planned for 2018.

It was planned to have 210 places for children aged four to 11 – but with the potential to expand further – after opening with a reception class of 30 in the 2018/19 academic year.

However serious disagreements between the two parties have proved a major sticking point – with no clear indication they can bridge such a large gap.

The two valuers produced their own reports in September 2016, setting out their valuations of the property at the date of their reports.

Crest Nicholson considered that the assumed value was just under £29.5million while GDEL said that it was over £43million.

Cllr Barker said: “We have had this is Dunmow in other locations where, if you like, two different people have two different views on the value of land.

“Part of that not happening and the non provision of a school is what is causing all the pressure on primary school paces in Dunmow.”

She added: “Now the developers who were interested in the existing school site I have been told have lost interest.

“The academy trust would have said 'to make the whole thing work we need x amount from the existing site' and the developer would have said 'if I need to pay you x amount, these are the sort of numbers of houses I need' and Uttlesford planning committee have said there are not enough affordables.

“Someone may have to go back to the drawing board and redo some sums.”

In terms of primary school provision, trends show a “sustained and long term need for primary school places within the Great Dunmow area”.

Forecasts indicate an additional form entry to be required by September 2022, with the mid to long term demand rising to a three form entry.

An Essex County Council spokesperson said: “The Saffron Academy Trust and Essex County Council remain firmly committed to exploring all available options to deliver the project for the young people of Great Dunmow.”

A statement from Helena Romanes said: “Planning permission for the new HRS Learning Village was granted last year. Since then the application to develop the existing HRS site for housing has been refused.

“The enabling development of the current HRS site is required to fund the learning village, and the Saffron Academy Trust remain firmly committed to exploring all available options to deliver the project for the young people of Great Dunmow.”