A NEW 880-pupil secondary school looks set to be delayed again due to an ongoing row over its location and may not open until 2019 - two years later than planned.
The Swan School – which is needed to cope with growing pupil numbers in Oxford – is earmarked for the Harlow Centre in Marston, but the site has proved controversial due to traffic and access issues.
Oxford City Council leader Bob Price said the authority was so concerned about the site it had discussed putting the new school in temporary buildings at the Cherwell School.
The River Learning Trust, which will run the Swan School, said this would not happen but confirmed a site has still not been secured.
Mr Price said: "The Harlow Centre site is quite problematic in terms of access.
"We would have to relocate existing school facilities, road access is difficult and people locally are not happy with the idea of large numbers of vehicles going down there.
"For some time we have been discussing with [River Learning Trust chief executive] Paul James and the Swan School people that a better solution long term would be to develop the Cherwell School south site and in the meantime use temporary buildings on the north site."
The school was announced in 2015 and was originally meant to open this September before being delayed until September 2018 because a site could not be found.
Mr Price said: "It seems to me that we could not get it up and running by 2018 unless we took it in phases.
"If we are looking 20 years hence a new school in Osney Mead or the expansion of the Cherwell School would be better than forcing something onto an inadequate site at the Harlow Centre."
Because the Swan School is a free school the Education Funding Agency – a Government body – is responsible for securing a location for it.
Last month the Oxford Mail revealed that Oxford East MP Andrew Smith had written to the city council and Oxfordshire County Council warning them not to allow the school to go ahead at the Harlow Centre if it led to increased traffic in the area.
Parish and city councillors in Marston have also expressed concerns about access to the site which is home to Meadowbrook College pupil referral unit.
River Learning Trust spokeswoman Gemma Weber said: "The EFA has explored a full range of site options for The Swan School.
"The outcome of this search will inform their decision on the most suitable site and the location will be confirmed once the site is secured.
"The provisional opening date can only be confirmed by the EFA once a suitable site for the school has been secured by it."
Later this month Oxfordshire County Council's cabinet will discuss selling the freehold of the Harlow Centre to the Department for Education to allow the Swan School to open there.
The council could also contribute £2m to the school.
County council cabinet member for education Steve Harrod said: "The Harlow Centre is seen as an appropriate site as it would boost school places in this specific area of Oxford, where there is particular demand, and across the city as a whole.
"The report to cabinet on February 24 is currently being authored and will explain these issues in more detail."
By the 2019/20 school year the county council predicts there will be more than 40,000 secondary school children compared to 36,500 in 2015/16.
County councillor and Oxford University education expert Professor John Howson said: "My understanding is that they would be extremely pushed to open it by September 2018 because the admissions process would have to start this autumn in order for that to happen.
"I think it has been handled very badly, we should have had it by 2018 at the very latest."
Department for Education spokeswoman Juliet Kirk said: "We will confirm the provisional opening date for Swan School as soon as possible, once a site has been secured."