Loss of playing field ‘a sacrilege’, says headteacher

Parents, pupils at Harlands School are fighting to keep the playing field which is now out of bounds, pictured behind the group. Pic Steve Robards SUS-140306-173142001
Parents, pupils at Harlands School are fighting to keep the playing field which is now out of bounds, pictured behind the group. Pic Steve Robards SUS-140306-173142001

A college’s intention to sell land to developers has been labelled ‘a sacrilege’ by a headteacher after school children have been locked out of a playing field.

Central Sussex College has padlocked a gate and put up fences and private property signs around a playing field next to Harlands Primary School, Haywards Heath, to stop people accessing it while surveys take place to find out what future development options are available.

The college has confirmed it hopes to sell the land to secure the long-term future of the college but the land is not on the market and has not been sold yet.

During the half term, piles of debris were dumped along the cricket pitch and football goal posts - which belong to the school - were removed .

Jane Goodlace, headteacher at the school, said she was disappointed the college had stopped children using the field as the summer term was about to commence.

She said: “If the college’s intention is to keep local residents on side pending a planning application, they should start by reinstating the schools legal right to use the playing fields with immediate effect as the summer term is the busiest sporting term of the curriculum.”

She added that the school and members of the public have used the field for around 40 years and was upset that the land could be sold to developers meaning it could never be used by children again.

“When the playing field is lost it’s lost forever. To lose a playing field is sacrilege.”

A spokeswoman for the college said the college removed the goal posts - with the school premises staff present - after the school failed to remove the posts themselves when asked to do so.

She added: “Some cuttings from grounds maintenance may well have been placed on the cricket pitch...but as this is our private land we are obviously fully entitled to place these wherever we wish.”

The land is owned by the college but the school has an agreement with the county council which has allowed it to use the land.

The college revealed that it faced significant deficit last year. The Haywards Heath campus completed a £30million refurbishment as the news of the deficit came to light.

The college Principal Sarah Wright said it was hoped that the money attained through the sale of the land would cover the cost of demolishing the old campus building and providing new sports facilities which would also be made available to the school.

She said: “I understand that some people will be upset at the prospect of our land off Penland Road being sold, but it is my job to secure the long-term future of the college and I believe that its sale is the best way to achieve that aim.

“Any funds secured as a result of the sale and possible redevelopment of this land will protect the future of the college and will in part be used to complete the transformation of the Sixth Form campus for generations to come, as well as providing sports facilities fit for the 21st century, students and the local community.”

The college spokeswoman added that the college was prepared to allow its land to be used for the school’s sports day and other agreed significant sporting events, prior to the end of the summer term and will absorb the costs associated with preparing the land for these events “as a gesture of goodwill”.

A number of members of the public have contacted the Middy to complain about the loss of the community facility.

The college said it has sent out leaflets to nearby residents to inform them of why the changes have taken place.

Over the last eighteen months the college’s senior team has managed reductions in staffing to bring the college in line with national average staffing levels - 60 per cent of turnover - and stabilised the college’s finances to the extent that it is now operationally financially sound.

The college and school management have agreed to meet on June 13.

Mid Sussex MP Nicholas Soames commented on the access restrictions to land owned by Central Sussex College in Haywards Heath.

Mr Soames said that he thought the college’s management team and principal should be applauded for going to appropriate lengths to ensure the future viability of the college.

He said: “It’s important people understand the serious position the Central Sussex College found itself in, in 2013, to deal with the appalling deficit left by the previous management.

“The people need to appreciate this college is a huge asset to our local community and many many people regard it as being so.

“I absolutely understand the anxieties of people that are nervous about this development but I think the college needs to take these steps in order to secure a prudent resolution to its very serious problems in order to be able to continue providing this vital community service.

“The college understand people’s anxieties about it. They’ve had to take some very difficult and very tough decisions and this is one of them.

“Everyone will wish to applaud the way in which Sarah Wright has dealt with this knowing she was walking into a tremendous wave of protest.”

Mr Soames added said he thought the college had gone to ‘extra-ordinary lengths’ to include the school in the process leading up to the sale of the land and to make sure it understood why changes were taking place.

He said: “The college has bent over backwards to ensure the primary school is properly informed.”

Mr Soames added that the college did not want to have to sell the land and it was taking a lot of advice about what types of development would be amicably received by the community.