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Councillors reject Department for Education's expansion plans for Sikh school

Ollie Sirrell, Local Democracy Reporter

Planning chiefs have thrown out designs for a new building at a Sikh school in Stoke Poges because they believe it would harm the countryside, writes Ollie Sirrell, Local Democracy Reporter.

The Department for Education applied to create a new sixth form and multi-use facility for the Khalsa Secondary Academy which would see it amalgamated with The Focus School.

But this would mean building in the green belt — something officers admitted would be “inappropriate” and would harm the openness of the countryside.

After hearing arguments for and against the controversial proposal, councillors voted to refuse the plan on the grounds the new building would not be fit for purpose and therefore the harm to the green belt wasn’t justified.

Officers originally suggested the proposal should go ahead because the applicants had demonstrated ‘very special circumstances’ which outweighed the harm to the green belt.

The circumstances outlined by the school’s bosses suggested the space was needed to hold exams, assemblies and play sport.

A report from planning experts at the former South Bucks District Council read: “The arguments put forward do collectively constitute very special circumstances that outweigh the harm caused by the inappropriateness of the proposal, and the harm to openness.”

The application was originally considered by the former authority in March and was deferred so councillors sitting on the South Buckinghamshire planning committee of the new council could judge the proposal with more information in front of them.

They pointed out a number of flaws with the very special circumstances.

Councillor Barbara Gibbs said: “Why does a school which is under-subscribed need to be extended?

“The school is under-subscribed.

“I would argue it doesn’t possibly need this at the moment.”

Fellow committee member Guy Hollis also said: “I don’t really think this extension is fit for purpose and therefore the very special circumstances are not justified.

“We feel that this is not fit for purpose by virtue of its size and that we feel the need isn’t justified as facilities exist elsewhere.”

Despite these criticisms, Councillor Roger Reed gave his backing to the plans after pointing out officers believed there was a “clear need” for the space.

The officer’s report, which came from the March meeting, read: “It is considered that there is a clear need for the provision of the proposed facilities, and it is significantly important to the future successful operation of the school in order to ensure its statutory functions, enhance pupil wellbeing and improve sustainability.”

After hearing arguments, councillors voted to refuse the plan on the grounds the new building would not be fit for purpose and therefore the harm to the green belt wasn’t justified.

Councillors voted overwhelmingly in favour of chucking out the designs, with just Roger Reed voting against the motion to refuse.

The planning committee met virtually on Tuesday, June 9.

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