Another Chester free school is using a public park for activities but is seeking permission on every occasion.
University Church Free School in Union Street has taken advantage of its location next to Grosvenor Park but Cheshire West and Chester Council says staff 'formally book' every time they take their primary aged pupils into the park.
The issue of free schools using publicly-funded recreational facilities arose over the summer when it emerged St Martin’s Academy in Hoole had been using the adjacent Alexandra Park so pupils could take part in the ‘daily mile’ walk or run to improve their health.
This was despite a firm pledge the new school would not use the park by Steve Docking, chief executive of North West Academies Trust, because of concerns raised during the planning process – an inconsistency recently highlighted by satirical magazine Private Eye.
Hoole ward councillor Alex Black found himself in a dilemma regarding St Martin’s because he wants to see the park well used but is unhappy the school has ‘not stood by’ its commitment.
He said: “This private business is renting a plot of land which isn’t big enough really for its use. It could have rented a bigger plot of land somewhere else but that would have been more expensive so they are saving themselves money by gaining free use of a public park.”
Abbey Gate Prep School in Clare Avenue, Hoole, is also understood to have used the park. But neither school had asked the council for official consent as of July, 2016. Both schools were subsequently informed about the need to book green spaces in future.
CWaC spokeswoman Aimee Clark said this week both schools had acknowledged the request but had ‘not made any bookings’ as yet.
Councillor Louise Gittins, cabinet member for communities and wellbeing, provided this statement previously.
She said: “We particularly value the role of parks in promoting health and fitness among people of all ages. Schools enjoy using our parks and we very much encourage them to do so, providing the activity is appropriate and does not cause disruption to other park users.
“Any community, voluntary or private organisation wishing to use a park for an event or organised activity is required to seek formal permission from the council.
“There is no charge but organisers must complete a booking form and provide a risk assessment and a copy of their public liability insurance. Providing we feel it is an appropriate activity and it does not clash with another event/activity we will allow it to go ahead.
“With 54 countryside parks, 27 urban parks and other green spaces across the borough, it is not feasible to monitor all activities taking place so we rely on organisations to contact us if they are planning an activity or event.”