Agreement ‘very close’ on new college plans for Woodlands Meed in Burgess Hill

West Sussex County Council is ‘very close to an agreement’ which should see long-awaited plans to build a new special school finally get off the ground.

Thursday, 30th September 2021, 10:32 am

During a scrutiny committee meeting on Wednesday (September 29), members were told that the council and the Woodlands Meed Foundation had made ‘significant progress’ on agreeing a number of key documents needed to get things going.

But Nigel Jupp, cabinet member for learning and skills, warned this would probably mean a three-month delay to the already delayed plans.

Mr Jupp said: “I keep my fingers crossed – and I’ve kept them crossed for many months now – that we will be able to get on site very shortly.

“I regret that we are going to be probably three months later than we wanted to be, and that will impact on the completion date as well.”

Delays have been nothing new to the parents, children and staff at the college, in Birchwood Grove Road, Burgess Hill.

The campaign road to build the new college has been a long one, stretching back to 2012 when the lower school was built.

With the money for the college never materialising, older children were educated in prefabricated buildings which even the council said were not suitable.

The council’s reputation took something of a battering over the project.

On top of that, it was revealed that children were being turned away when they reached the age of 14 because the college had neither the space nor the resources to care for them.

In 2018, things seemed to be looking up, and the aim was to have the college completed and opened by this month.

In 2020, the council agreed to use up to £20m from the capital programme to build the college for 100 children, with planning permission given earlier this year.

But the completion date was pushed back to summer 2023, then moved up to May 2023.

Mr Jupp’s latest announcement of a probable three-month delay could see it drop back to August 2023.

He said: “This council has never wavered from its decision, made 18 months ago, to provide a new and fully compliant special school as soon as it was practicably possible.

“This commitment is clearly evidenced by the council having, in good faith, incurred external costs of close to £2m on surveys, professional fees etc.

“In addition, senior officers have spent a considerable amount of their valuable time managing the project and liaising with the Foundation and other stakeholders.

“Once the revised date for the start has been agreed, together with its completion date, we will obviously advise all stakeholders.

“This situation is not one that I had anticipated when we started on this road 18 months ago. However, I remain hopeful that we are very close to agreement and to a start on site.”