THE approval of a 900-pupil capacity high school on green belt land has been criticised by councillors – who claim not enough was done to find alternative sites.

A majority of Bolton Council’s planning committee backed the school project, which will be operated by Kings Leadership Academy.

But some members spoke out about the loss of green space in the south of the town and several voted against approving the scheme.

Earlier today the establishment was among 21 new free schools announced by the government.

The academy is proposed to be built close to Freshfield Avenue and the Great Lever and Farnworth golf course.

Plans submitted to Bolton Council by the Department for Education (DfE) describe ‘a secondary school which would be a free school for pupils aged 11-16 with approximately 900 students, with additional social spaces, external games areas and playing fields’.

The fact that the land is currently green belt is addressed by planning officers in a report to committee members but with the plans currently defined as inappropriate development.

However the applicant has stated ‘very special circumstances’ for the proposed school and claims the benefits far outweigh any harm.

A planning report pressed the case for the approval of the school.

It stated: “The new campus will enable the school to deliver a high quality education which we believe will be the same standard of the best of independent or grammar schools.

“The school is critical to addressing an educational need and forms an integral part of our planning.

“Without the school opening by September 2022 there will be a shortage af around 500 secondary school places in Bolton, this rises to more than 1,000 by 2023.”

Cllr Debbie Newall, said: “I do understand the need for a school but I’m sure it’s not beyond the wit of us to find a location that doesn’t involve the green belt.

“The proposal will harm the green belt. The scale of the site is at odds with the open nature of this area.

“It does not meet the criteria involving sustainable design and construction.

“It looks like we are sleepwalking into building on the green belt when we’ve not exhausted all other options.”

Cllr Andy Morgan said the site was the most appropriate site within the BL3 area and exactly where school places were needed most.

Cllr Hanif Darvesh, said: “To build on green belt the benefits must clearly outweigh the harm and for me they don’t. I will be supporting refusal.”

The approval of the school plans will now be referred to the Communities Secretary for confirmation as the decision contravenes Bolton Council’s own policies on development of green belt land.