HOPES of a new-style “free school” in Europe’s largest private housing estate were dashed today (Tuesday, February 5) as councillors refused permission.

Developers had pledged to provide 13 acres of land for Ingleby Manor Free School, a 750-place secondary and 150-place sixth form in Ingleby Barwick, near Stockton, on the condition they could build 350 houses next to it.

Free schools are a coalition government initiative to allow parents to get together and set up schools, free from local authority control but publicly funded.

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But Labour-run Stockton Council raised concerns about the land at Little Maltby Farm, off Low Lane, being green wedge – green fields not earmarked for development – and refused the application by ten votes to one, much to the disappointment of campaigners.

Agents Satnam, who developed the application on behalf of the investors who own the land, are now preparing to go to appeal, saying they believed the council had not adhered to proper planning rules.

There are just 650 places for Ingleby Barwick pupils at its All Saints secondary school and the rest of the estate’s 1,500 11-18-year-olds have to be bussed to schools in Yarm and Eaglescliffe.

Stockton Borough Councillor for Ingleby Barwick Ross Patterson, who helped set up the campaign for the new secondary school, told the meeting: “This school which is so badly needed now comes at a price – 350 homes that in an ideal world no-one wants, and that includes me.

“But over the years Stockton Borough Council has approved 577 houses on green wedge land around Ingleby Barwick and 400 were approved to help pay for the new access road.”

Steve Fryer, chair of the Ingleby Manor Foundation Trust, the group set up to establish the school, said: “This application is the only opportunity to deliver this for future generations.”

Several residents voiced their concerns about the loss of green wedge land at Bassleton Beck and about traffic congestion on Low Lane.

Councillor Steve Walmsley, who sits on the planning committee, said: “Nobody denies that there has been a need for extra school places for a long time. But there are still another 1,200 houses to be built in Ingleby Barwick.

"This application goes for yet another 350 but that is only in phase one. There are three phases to this and it adds up to 1,300 houses. How does that fit into a 700-place school?"

Other planning committee members said they understood the need for the school but felt they hadn’t been provided with enough evidence for the need for extra housing.

Conservative Stockton South MP James Wharton said after the meeting: “I have campaigned for years to get a new school for Ingleby Barwick and to have it turned away when we are so close is a bitter pill to swallow.”

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