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Property Focus - Are You Taking on a New School?

on Friday, 12 November 2021.

Following the recent change of Education Secretary and publication of plans by councils, we have seen that there still remains a strong vision towards academisation of schools throughout England.

When bringing in an additional academy and growing your Multi Academy Trust (MAT), minimising the risks of finding costly unexpected legal or practical issues after the academy has joined your MAT is a key aim. Therefore carrying out property due diligence is of utmost importance and can help to reduce or manage any uncovered issues.

Due Diligence

Property due diligence will involve reviewing the title to the property to check how the school site is held (i.e. freehold or leasehold) and checking any restrictive covenants which could, for example, prevent or restrict the MAT from carrying out certain types of development (an important point to consider if the MAT has plans for the property that could breach a covenant) or using the property for certain uses. It would also involve checking the title to the property to ensure it could be transferred to the MAT without any third party consent and that the property benefits from all the rights it needs, to allow it to be operated as a school site.

Property due diligence can also include reviewing any property documentation with resident employees and reviewing any shared use agreements (for example with an adjacent school or leisure centre), to ensure that the MAT can continue to use the facilities and is comfortable with the obligations that the MAT will be subject to following completion of the transfer.

Requesting replies to preliminary enquiries from the owner of the property will also confirm whether there have been any recent construction projects, third party funding arrangements, third party use (such as after school clubs) and whether there have been any disputes.

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Property Searches

It is also possible to undertake a number of property searches to find out further information which may affect the MAT's further plans for the site and which could be resolved within the legal documentation. Such searches could typically include:

  • Local Authority Search - this checks the records held at the local authority relating to planning and building history which can determine whether any recent building works have had proper consent. It will also detail whether the surrounding roads are adopted and maintainable at the public expense (if not access rights will have to be considered), if there are listed buildings and whether part of the site is registered as Common Land or a Town and Village Green.
  • Drainage and Water Search - this reveals whether drainage and water supply pipes serving the property are maintained at the public expense and if there are sewers or water pipes laid under the property (which can carry rights of access over the school site in favour of the owner of the sewers and water pipes).
  • Environmental Search - an initial desktop search can reveal environmental information (such as flood risk and radon gas presence) about the property based on historic and neighbouring land uses. It also gives a risk indication as to whether the land might be designated as contaminated land.
  • Chancel Repair Search - this reveals whether there is a risk of chancel repair liability within the historic parish where the property is located.

There also may be further optional searches (e.g. utilities to locate cabling within the site) that would be useful to undertake depending on the locality and any development plans for the property.

If you would like to discuss property due diligence in more detail, please contact Abbie Dobson in our Academies, MATs and Schools team on 07884 580 165 or complete the form below.

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