Is a nursery a ‘school’ in planning terms?

Posted: 5th February 2019

PencilsIs a children’s nursery a school? The High Court has ruled in a guideline case that, at least in the planning context, the answer to that question is no.

The operator of a nursery installed two temporary buildings in its garden in order to provide more space for children. It had previously sought a certificate of lawful development from the local authority on the basis that the development did not require planning permission, but did not wait for a decision before the buildings were put in place.

The council refused to issue a certificate and that decision was subsequently upheld by a government planning inspector.

The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (the GPDO) enables schools, universities, colleges and hospitals to erect buildings up to a certain floor area within their curtilages without formal planning consent. However, the inspector found that the nursery could not benefit from that provision because it was not a school.

In dismissing the nursery operator’s challenge to that decision, the Court found that the inspector had correctly interpreted the GPDO. Even if the services provided by the nursery were predominantly educational, that did not necessarily make it a school.

The Court noted that the phrase ‘school-age’ is commonly understood to encompass the period of a child's life when he or she is by law required to attend school. Similarly, the phrase ‘pre-school’ is frequently applied to nurseries which provide for children who have yet to reach compulsory school age.

The Court observed that, if an estate agent told a house hunter that at the end of the road there was a good school, the latter would not expect to find a nursery school, however good. In those circumstances, the unqualified use of the word 'school' did not in its ordinary meaning include a nursery. The decision meant that the temporary buildings had been erected in breach of planning control.