Birmingham City Council planners have decided they would rather risk costly legal action than approve a school without a playground.
The planning committee voted by 11 to two against allowing the East Birmingham Network, or EBN, to open a free school for disengaged pupils in disused offices at the busy Swan Shopping Centre in Yardley.
They argued that a school with no outdoor play area, next to a major shopping area and one of the city’s busiest roads and with question marks over its fire evacuation procedures should not go ahead.
The committee was repeatedly warned that the EBN school met minimum planning policy guideline and there is a good chance the local authority would lose a costly legal appeal.
But Coun Martin Straker-Welds (Lab, Moseley and Kings Heath), a teacher, said: “An outdoor play area is as important a facility as any provided by a school.
“We should not be looking for minimum standards, we should be looking for something exceptional for children.”
Councillors also argued there were strong reasons to refuse over traffic, impact on residents and the impact on the Swan Centre of having up to 90 disengaged youngsters crossing the shopping centre to play on the nearest open space every day.
Coun Barry Henley (Lab, Brandwood) said: “That might work for a once-a-week PE lesson, but I imaging it would be practically impossible for daily play time.”
One of two councillors to support the scheme, Peter Douglas Osborn (Cons, Weoley) said that the Oaklands Recreation Ground, earmarked as a play area for pupils, was only about 200 yards away. “It is one of the biggest recreation grounds in Birmingham. Legally we are on a sticky wicket here,” he said.
The East Birmingham Network, a group of 12 city secondary schools, hoped to open the free school in the former Tesco office block in Lily Road, in September. It was designed to offer specialist education for disengaged and troubled 11 to 18-year-olds referred to it by the 12 schools.
A spokesman for EBN said that they had been working with builders and Ofsted to overcome the fire safety concerns and are confident of a solution. He also refused to rule out a legal appeal.
“We are disappointed. However, we are duty-bound on behalf of these children to continue to explore all options and do what is in their best interests,” he said.