145 freehold sites are held by the Department for Education for future free schools, the accounts of LocatED show.
Located Property Limited, known as LocatED, is commissioned by the DfE to purchase sites and buildings for free schools. Its accounts* for the financial year 2017/18, its first year of operation, show LocatED purchased 55 sites and took over the DfE’s portfolio of 90 properties. This porfolio includes sites which are not occupied by open free schools.
Once a free school is opened, freehold is usually transferred to the trust running the school if the freehold was originally bought with public money. The DfE normally raises a 'charge' to protect its investment but does not own the freehold despite most free school sites being bought from public funds.
LocatED's forward planning says it hopes to secure over 65 sites and manage over 80. This implies some of the DfE’s existing portfolio will be disposed of.
One of the sites which will be sold is Trafalgar College, a secondary free school in Great Yarmouth opened in 2016 by Inspiration Trust, the multi-academy trust closely associated with schools minister Lord Agnew. In a controversial move, Trafalgar College merged with Inspiration’s Great Yarmouth Charter Academy in 2018.
The Trafalgar College site is now surplus to requirements. Inspiration Trust accounts* say the freehold is owned by the Department for Communities and Local Government, now the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. This prompted me to ask how many such freeholds were held by the ministry and how much they cost.
The ministry told me they did not own the school properties. Ownership was with the DfE.
I asked the DfE for the information. Unfortunately, I hadn’t made it explicit that I wanted to know about freehold sites although the reference to Trafalgar College’s freehold and the ministry’s response would, I mistakenly thought, have made this obvious. The DfE refused my request on grounds of cost.
LocatED’s accounts* reveal the number of sites, 145, where the freehold is hold by the DfE but not their cost. These are not shown because LocatED’s accounts are consolidated into the DfE’s.
I have submitted a new request.
ADDENDUM. An article in TES reports the DfE doesn't know how many academy trusts 'are operating under funding agreements that completely relinquish public control of state school land'. And, as noted above, trusts running free schools usually hold the freehold not the DfE. This could represent an irresponsible transfer of assets purchased by taxpayers.
*Available from Companies House