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Education chiefs warn Kent can expect influx of London families as councils buy MoD land

By Paul Francis

Education chiefs have warned Kent can expect to see significant numbers of families moving into the county from London as authorities in the capital search for cheaper accommodation.

London councils are said to be waiting in the wings to buy up former Ministry of Defence land in Kent to house families in less costly property, councillors have warned.

Kent County Council is already facing a demand for thousands more classroom spaces because of a population increase and rising birth rate.

Former military homes at Howe Barracks

Former military homes at Howe Barracks

But education bosses say there will be added pressure with a further influx from London, with authorities bidding to buy up land that has been released by the MoD and is set to be auctioned.

The issue was raised at a meeting where KCC’s latest school commissioning plan - which sets out how the authority will meet growing demand for places - was discussed.

That revealed that Kent would need the equivalent of 12 new secondary schools as numbers swell, but was an estimated £149m short of what is needed to cope with demand.

The former Howe Barracks at St Martin's Hill, Canterbury

The former Howe Barracks at St Martin's Hill, Canterbury

Education chiefs say they expect similar acquisitions to the one in Canterbury, where the London borough of Redbridge bought land at Howe Barracks and rehoused 250 families.

County councillor Ida Linfield (Lib Dem), who represents Canterbury, said: "Come to my division... which is the division with Redbridge families in it. There are four primary schools that are not coping, they are creaking.

“There is more MoD land in Canterbury which is coming on to the open market. It is the elephant in the room amongst primary schools in my division.”

Ida Linfield

Ida Linfield

Education director Patrick Leeson said at a meeting last week the council was only told about the plans by Redbridge council to rehouse families two months before September.

He said: “They could have told us several months before if they had chosen to. Clearly when local authorities are finding alternative places for families they are not always advantaged families.

"I don't want to stereotype anyone but clearly some have additional needs and they bring those needs into Kent schools.

"I suspect that is not going to go away and we will see further examples of significant numbers of families being moved to Kent by other local authorities.”

KCC education director Patrick Leeson

KCC education director Patrick Leeson

He said cuts in welfare benefits were also responsible for families moving from London into Kent with cuts leaving them no alternative but to find cheap accommodation.

There were “very significant” numbers moving into north Kent and east Kent, he added.

“This is a very challenging problem," he continued. "The numbers in the commissioning plan are eye-watering and the lack of certainty and clarity around funding that is needed to deliver the solution is one of our biggest issues.”

He said ultimately, it was down to Kent schools and whether they wished to expand.

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