THE Chronicle understands a new free school will lease its site from Cheshire West and Chester Council at below market rate.

But the Tory authority agreed to strike the deal with St Martin’s Academy in Hoole, fearing it may otherwise take over the former Woodfield Primary School site in Kingsway without any financial gain for the council as allowed by government policy.

This would have meant the site would have been unavailable to deliver the much-delayed Extra Care housing for older people.

And the Department for Education is not prepared to release the Woodfield site as an educational facility until the free school situation is concluded.

Government policies encourage the establishment of free schools which are independent of local authorities with increased control over their curriculum, teachers’ pay and conditions and the length of school terms and days.

Critics – including the Labour Party and several teachers’ unions – argue they will prove divisive, are likely to be centred disproportionately in middle-class neighbourhoods, will weaken already weak schools by attracting the best performing pupils and will contribute to creating a two-tier system.

Labour group leader Justin Madders called in the decision to lease the Hoole Road site to the free school, citing ‘inadequate consultation with the community’ and ‘insufficient reason given for no open market disposal’, but this was rejected.

Cllr Mark Stocks, Conservative executive member for education and children, told the executive: “I do believe the decision is good value for this council. It allowed the retention of a former educational facility to provide a facility for Extra Care homes in a community facility and another facility the council owns, we are going receive a small financial remuneration from.

“If they had gone on to the former school site we wouldn’t have had any financial remuneration at all so I do think on balance it was a sound decision.”