Education Assessments within major urban and new, mixed-use settlement proposals have traditionally been driven by requirements within the Environmental Impact Assessment or Statement process. But in hiding them away in these complex, ‘impact’ and ‘mitigation’ focused technical documents are we underestimating the value they can deliver?
Surely understanding and supporting the enhancement of education provision within development and therefore that for the wider surrounding community, offers huge positive social value for all concerned? And that by building this understanding earlier in the development process, this value can not only be maximised through discussion but also through considered and creative responses. Responses which benefit the local, existing, and potential new community, as well as the Local Authority and the developer.
As such, we’re increasingly preparing standalone education assessments ahead of any such assessment that might be included within the EIA process–to inform projects at the earliest stage. Testing how they can be used to build our understanding of the community in which we are working, clarify provision gaps and the reality of need the development will generate, and ultimately feeding into our wider communications with all stakeholders, to inform and highlight the value and opportunity development presents.
Typically, an education assessment includes:
- Identifying and mapping existing education provision (always primary and secondary and where required early years and post-16) within the catchment of the development site.
- Identifying current capacity of existing provision.
- Reviewing and considering DfE forecasts/Local Education Authority data in respect of the number of school places required in future years.
- Calculating demand for additional education places arising from the proposed development. This can be high level i.e., based on total quantum of development, or for large-scale developments more detailed, calculating demand arising from each phase/year of development.
- Assessing whether there is capacity within the existing schools to accommodate the additional demand created by the proposed development.
- If there is not capacity within the existing schools, advise on the measures required to mitigate the development’s impact, for example, the equivalent form of entry requirement for additional education provision and/or financial contribution required.
- If a development is providing new education provision on-site, advise on the year in which the new provision will be required and where possible, identify how the development’s new education provision may assist in addressing deficits of school places in the wider locality.
Nearly every type of residential provision will have an impact on education, but with this thorough understanding of need and capacity, the development team and Local Authority can have a well-informed conversation from the outset around volume and efficiency of provision, but also around how education provision can aid community integration, reduce carbon impact, and even enhance healthy living opportunities.
At Birkenhead Town Centre for example, our education assessment highlighted, contrary to the Local Authority’s initial view, that through considered design moves, there was education capacity in the surrounding area. Working with our client, the project team demonstrated how, through investment in an enhanced masterplan layout, that focused on delivering strong active travel networks to these existing schools, they were highly accessible and could accommodate the majority of the demand from the proposed development. As such, it has been agreed that the scheme only gives rise to the development of a new classroom.
At Thameside West, a 5,000 home new community in East London, the need for education provision was clear and the client committed to providing a new primary school on-site. But equally, so was the reality of a 10-year build out programme. Delivering the new primary school on-site within the first phase was not really possible due to site logistics, so here, we worked closely with our planners and the wider project team to understand the phasing of the development and profile educational need. The education assessment showed how the profile of need would change over build-out and demonstrated the key need trigger points in the development and demonstrate that cumulative demand from the development would not require the delivery of the primary school on-site until the later phases. Our analysis went on to also inform the Section 106 Agreement confirming the client’s financial contribution towards permanently increasing off-site primary school capacity to mitigate the need for primary school places generated by phase 1 of the development.
At a large new settlement proposal, we are supporting in Surrey, our education assessment has also formed an important element of negotiations between the client and the local and education authorities. In this instance the local and education authority had different expectations for education provision within the scheme, but our analysis has provided the client with independent analysis that enabled them to have informed discussions with the two entities, ultimately resulting in the delivery of a primary school on-site and a contribution towards off-site secondary school provision.
Finally, the numerous estate regeneration projects Barton Willmore’s inter-disciplinary teams are working on across London, have required an understanding of the existing social infrastructure, including schools, and their capacities. The new density policy in the London Plan 2021 (Policies D2 and D3) refer to ‘Infrastructure requirements for sustainable densities’ and ‘Optimising site capacity through the design-led approach’. It is therefore necessary to clearly demonstrate that the infrastructure capacity is in place to justify the densities being proposed, along with any implications for mitigation and phasing of delivery. Such analysis has been prepared to inform development at the Cambridge Road Estate (Kingston), Grange Estate (Barnet) and Friary Park (Ealing) to name but a few. Whilst driven by policy in the London Plan, such infrastructure capacity assessments are also very beneficial to developments outside of London, especially where communication with the existing communities has been and will remain a hugely important aspect of every decision. Having access to the education assessment information in the early stages aids and informs communication with the local existing residents hugely, enabling us to articulate the huge opportunity and benefits regeneration programmes and development can deliver for all residents.
I believe all these examples demonstrate how this approach can aid the creation of more holistic developments. By understanding fully, what is needed and when, we can consider how education design can better knit new communities into their surroundings. We can focus on delivering safe, green corridors through development that facilitate active travel on key routes to education facilities and deliver more sustainable and healthy development in the round. And we can understand how a community and therefore its educational need will evolve through consecutive development phases and in turn ensure education is being provided in the most efficient and timely way to meet all these needs fully.
These are all huge wins, but for me the biggest and most important for our industry is the opportunity to use this information early in our engagement. Education assessments can provide all within the development industry with the data to articulate the opportunity and positive impact of development on education provision. At a time when the industry is so often much maligned, this shift from ‘impact’ to opportunity offers us all a great opportunity to change the conversation from ‘impact’ and ‘mitigation’ to opportunity and value for all concerned. Let’s grab it.
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