Birmingham City Council planners have given the go-ahead to convert a disused four-storey office block into a free school despite misgivings over an inadequate play area and its city centre location.
The secondary school at Tame House in Newhall Street now seems set to be open from September, and could ultimately house up to 620 pupils and 135 teaching and support staff.
Planning committee members were unanimous in their support of the school, which will be run by Liam Nolan, head teacher of Perry Beeches Academy School, in Great Barr.
It is planned to fill it with children from Hockley who are already on waiting lists for the over-subscribed Perry Beeches Academy.
Chartered surveyor Neville Topping, of Elias Topping, who has several business interests in the immediate area, complained that neither he nor the Jewellery Quarter business organisations had been consulted on the scheme.
He thought the building too cramped for 750 people and added concerns that at small games area, about the size of a five-a-side football pitch, seemed inadequate.
“I do not understand how that is sufficient,” he said.
Council officers insisted that hundreds of people had been contacted over the proposals. Committee member and teacher Coun John Clancy (Lab, Quinton) admitted: “I am not a fan of high-rise education for 11 to 18-year- olds. Stairwells and windows present particular problems.”
And coun Bob Beauchamp (Cons, Erdington) added: “I do have concerns about the children being kettled indoors.”
But the committee was persuaded that, with staggered break times, it would be acceptable, while bringing a disused building back into constructive use. Mr Nolan said that Ofsted had already indicated their support for the building.
He said: “This is about providing education for children from some of the most disadvantaged areas of the city.”
But Waynes Bates, Birmingham spokesman for teaching union NASUWT, warned at the growth of free schools, saying: “We already have grave concerns over the suitability of some of the buildings being used to house free schools.”