The West Malling office has successfully obtained planning permission for a Special Educational Needs (SEN) school on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) in Bexley. The applicant, ADO services (http://www.adoservices.co.uk/), provide specialist education and therapy services in an outdoor environment linked with animals, wildlife and nature and had been searching for a suitable site for several years. They identified the site in Bexley as suitable given that it provided all of the necessary open space with existing nature and wildlife but in a high sustainable location given the surrounding residential development.
Despite the lack of detailed engagement from the council during the pre-application process, the client and landowner were committed to the scheme . In August 2020 an application for four permanent buildings, in the form of log cabin style structure, were submitted. The proposals also provided details for on-site parking, landscape enhancements and biodiversity improvements as well given that these are fundamental aspects of the teaching on site. Due to the MOL status of the site, the application was also supported with a Very Special Circumstances report outlining the reasons why the proposal was deemed to be acceptable.
Following a series of clarifications to the scheme, the application was reported to the planning committee of Bexley Council on 1 July, some 11 months after the application was submitted. During the committee debate, members were clear on their stance to protect MOL noting that it was afforded the same protection as Green Belt land. However, despite such protection it was evident that this was an exceptional application. Indeed one councillor commented that the efforts of the applicant were to be commended and that the proposal was evidently much needed in the local area to meet a demand for such specialist education facilities and was supported by the council’s own education team and the local ward councillor.
The application was a unanimous approval at committee endorsing the officers recommendation. Iain Warner, director of the West Malling office, commented “This is perhaps one of the more important applications that I have been involved with over the last few years. The applicant as committed to delivering the SEN school on this site despite the hurdles in the sense of the amount of time taken to get the application finally to the planning committee. It is great to finally realise the first hurdle to secure planning consent and now the applicants can navigate the process of OFTSED to get the necessary certification to enable them to implement their plans and deliver this important new addition for the residents of Bexley and neighbouring authorities that will benefit from this new facility.”