The right land for a learning environment

The right land for a learning environment

LocatED is a government-owned property company, responsible for buying and developing sites for new free schools in England. Its chief executive Lara Newman talks to Education Business about its ethos and current and future work


LocatED was launched to save taxpayers’ money by providing the commercial and property market expertise to secure sites for free schools more quickly and at better value.

We are supporting the government’s free schools programme – which delivers choice, innovation and higher standard for parents.

My team is well quipped to negotiate at pace with multiple partners across the private and public sector – landowners, agents, developers – to secure sites for new free schools at the best possible value.

We also proactively manage sites and school buildings that are not currently in use and we also dispose of any surplus sites no longer needed.


Since the start of the free schools programme, the government has acquired a huge number of land and buildings – both permanent and temporary – across a wide variety of types, from local authority and central government buildings, to office blocks, health buildings, churches and retail units. 

Our expertise is helping to broaden the types of buildings and sites that could be used for free schools. We are thinking about it in a way that is perhaps more innovative than before – considering creative land and development sites and with greater access, because of the teams’ contacts to off market sites. We buy land and buildings, with scope to develop further or extend.

We also have a dedicated team that leads on mixed use projects – projects that include other facilities, such as residential development or commercial space as part of the overall school development. We need sites in all shapes and sizes, which is fairly unique and consider sites that can deliver between 10,000 to 175,000 sq. ft. gross internal floor area.

It really is a mixed bag – and that makes it both challenging and exciting for our acquisitions team.


Our mission is to deliver free school sites quickly and at the best possible value for the taxpayer. It is what we were set up to do and we work with the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) to ensure this happens.

In an ideal world, the government would secure sites for free schools by agreeing the use of existing school or education sites or land from local authorities. But that does not always happen.

At that point, our 40-strong team of experts – which has skills across acquisition, asset management, technical and planning – get to work identifying the widest range of potential sites for each approved school.

We have a formal Investment Committee, a sub-committee to our main Board, with three members – two of LocatED’s non-executive directors and myself as chief executive plus experts that attend to advise on technical, legal and financial matters. The committee meticulously scrutinises each and every deal before we exchange or complete on any sites and has played a significant role in leveraging better deals for the taxpayer.
I suppose the easiest way to summarise is to say that we do not pay in excess of what a site is worth, or purchase expensive sites, if there are better value for money alternatives in the area. Like all government procurement, the transaction must demonstrate value for taxpayers’ money before our Investment Committee will give approval.


We’re given a specific brief to find a site, usually in a certain geographical area, that meets the needs of the school. To do so, we take into account the school’s pupil numbers, if it has a specialism, and any other context.

Construction itself is usually led by the ESFA, so the successful school building – from LocateED’s point of view – should meet all of the technical, size and location criteria and meet the needs of the free school trust.


As I said, construction and design is the responsibility of the ESFA. However, we do have a responsibility to find sites that meet the specific needs of schools and all technical matters, including key areas such as how the buildings will be able to work properly on the site, transport and highways issues, flood matters, other elements of planning policy form part of the criteria when deciding if a site is suitable or not.

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