PLANNERS have been questioned over having a ‘gun put to their heads’ - after it was claimed plans for a new temporary school were rushed through at the risk of funding being pulled.

The proposals on land off Keresforth Close, near Broadway, were approved at Tuesday’s planning regulatory board meeting.

They indicate a temporary school will be opened in September and welcome 180 students aged 11 to 16, followed by a further 180 in 2022. It’s expected a permanent school will be in place by 2023 on the site of the former NHS Keresforth Centre, due for demolition in April.

That site will provide 49 car parking spaces for the temporary school, which will be enclosed by a 2.4-metre security fence on a 0.78-acre patch of land.

The two-storey temporary school will be built on playing fields which have become disused and overgrown - which, as a stipulation brought by Sport England, will return to their former use once the temporary building is no longer required.

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The land - initially allocated for 150 homes in the local plan - is bordered on each side by Keresforth Close and the vacant NHS buildings, Broadway, and allotments and residential developments.

In December 2018, Barnsley’s ruling cabinet identified a need for at least 744 additional secondary school places by 2027 and said the council would work with any multi-academy trusts (MATs) that express an interest in opening a free school - a government-funded, independently-run site.

Trinity MAT was identified as a provider by the Department for Education, and in turn the trust picked the site.

Dodworth Coun Peter Fielding said he believed area councillors had been ‘sold a bit short’ on residents’ comments on the application. He added that requests to see details of the selection process for the site had been denied.

It was also noted that due to the short time-scale, a full transport assessment had been replaced by a shorter statement.

“When this meeting was moved, we were told this was partly because our education department was concerned that because the DfE wanted this decision before March, the meeting was moved to accommodate that otherwise funding could be pulled,” he said.

“I find that totally inappropriate.

“What I’m concerned about in particular is the speed the application has been brought, and consequently what I think is a rather inadequate planning report - in terms of the detail in it and some of the documents that are missing - to enable members to make an informed decision.

“What we have seen is a very brief summary of 3,000 words of detailed and well-considered objections, in my view, which we’re not hearing. I don’t believe they have been done justice.

“We’ve felt like we’ve had a gun put to our heads - we’ve had to pass this or there will be no school for these children to go to in September.”

His ward colleague Coun Neil Wright said he felt ‘badly let down’ by the process but would ‘struggle to vote against it’, adding: “The speed of this application is causing great concern.

“We’ve been boxed into a situation where we have the choice of depriving children of education, or accepting this.”

Head of planning Joe Jenkinson said 17 sites had been looked at, including one on Harborough Hill Road, the former Oakwell Brewery site, the former B and Q site at Stairfoot and a location on Elmhirst Lane, Dodworth.

“This process has been dealt with in an entirely normal way, albeit with the impact of Covid and issues around the transport assesment,” he said.

“It’s absolutely imperative that young people, who have suffered a hell of a lot, have somewhere to go to school. We attribute great weight to the benefits of this scheme.”

There were also questions raised over building on an unadopted highway, but it was noted Keresforth Close has long served nearby dwellings, and transport improvements will take place before the permanent school’s opening.