Some children in the area have to go to school several miles away in Rugeley because the two village primary schools are full, members of Cannock Chase Council have been told.
There is enough funding to provide up to 15 extra school places – equivalent to half a class – in Norton Canes, raised through financial contributions by developers who have secured planning permission in the area in recent years.
But Staffordshire County Council has been unable to secure extra school provision and this is still subject to negotiations, the district authority’s planning committee heard on Tuesday.
The issue of school places was raised by district and parish councillor John Preece at a committee meeting last month, where he revealed more than £1m was available for educational provision but more than 50 children were turned away from the village’s two primary schools in the last year due to lack of spaces. Plans to build 55 new homes on land off Norton Hall Lane were deferred at that meeting to enable the application to be advertised as required.
Persimmon Homes’ proposals returned to the planning committee on Tuesday – two days before the closing date of the latest consultation. This 21-day consultation was required because it involves a change of use of land previously allocated as employment space in the district’s Local Plan.
Norton Canes councillor Josh Newbury questioned the timing of the planning committee’s decision-making while the consultation was still open for public comments. He said: “It seems the wrong message in my opinion – how does it look to the public if we are determining the outcome before the consultation is closed?”
Outline planning permission for development of the wider area has already been granted and detailed consent for 450 homes was given in 2018. A section of land at the south of the site was earmarked for employment and business use.
But despite marketing there had been little interest from potential business occupiers, the planning committee heard on Tuesday, leading to the application to build 55 homes on the 1.57 hectare (3.89 acre) site. A neighbouring parcel of land is earmarked for retail use however.
Councillor Newbury said: “We all know there is not a massive demand for office space at the moment. Given it is vacant land and has been for some time, and most of the rest of the development is almost completed, everyone wants to see something done with the land.
“The feeling from the Neighbourhood Plan, which is not yet adopted, is this land would be best used for residential use, with preference for an elderly care facility. That has not come forward but from a Neighbourhood Plan perspective something is being done on the land which potentially offsets need elsewhere in the village.
“There is definitely a need for some sort of retail space and the feeling from the vast majority of residents on the estate is they would love a shop. They would also like to see this site as green open space.”
But Councillor Newbury added that there were concerns about the extra demand the new development would place on the local schools and GP surgery. And he highlighted the location of the proposed affordable housing in groups, rather than being spread across the development, “which does create an ‘us and them’ feeling.”
In total 11 affordable homes are planned – 20 per cent of the overall development – with seven for affordable rent, one as a shared ownership scheme and three as part of the new 'First Homes' scheme which offers a discount to first time buyers. The 55 homes will be a mix of two and three-bedroom properties.
Committee member Councillor Alan Pearson proposed the application be approved. He said: “The developer has realised they can’t get people for business. But I do feel for the people who are going to be near a major road.
“I think it will be a good development – not in the best place but it is something we need to do. We can’t leave a piece of land there doing nothing.”
But Councillor Mike Hoare said: “I don’t think it’s sustainable – it’s over-development. We need retail and extra buildings for things like leisure; Norton Canes has a good park and the Cema [park] is excellent but it’s nowhere near enough.
“It’s alright saying we are going to get some money (for education provision) but children are being sent to school somewhere else and that is going to have a big impact, they’re not really part of the community. We need an extra classroom or two.”