County council branded ‘short-sighted’ over size of new college for Woodlands Meed

Campaigners and school governors have branded West Sussex County Council ‘short-sighted’ after it was suggested a new Woodlands Meed College could cater for only 100 children. By Karen Dunn, local democracy reporter.

Monday, 13th January 2020, 3:12 pm
Updated Monday, 13th January 2020, 3:36 pm
In early December, Woodlands Meed school campaigners protest outside county hall north, Horsham. Nigel Jupp, cabinet member for education and skills, talking to the protesters. Photo by Derek Martin Photography. SUS-190412-132817008
In early December, Woodlands Meed school campaigners protest outside county hall north, Horsham. Nigel Jupp, cabinet member for education and skills, talking to the protesters. Photo by Derek Martin Photography. SUS-190412-132817008

Despite the school, parents and the council’s own scrutiny committee supporting the idea of a new college for 136 pupils, Nigel Jupp, cabinet member for education, said the council was only really looking at the 100-pupil option.

Chair of governors Marion WIlcock pointed out that the college, in Burgess Hill, already had 103 pupils.

She said: “At a time when it is acknowledged there is a growing demand for special educational needs places, it appears short-sighted not to take the opportunity to provide the additional places.”

Members of the Complete Woodlands Meed Campaign agreed, accusing the council of ‘demonstrating no strategic vision’.

The council’s insistence that money be spent on another review of the current college – which is made up of prefabricated buildings branded ‘not fit for purpose’ – was a cause of frustration.

While Mr Jupp said the review was necessary to assure the council could ‘acquit ourselves in terms of value for money’, others felt it was an unnecessary waste of time and money.

Mrs Wilcock said the Department for Education had sent governors full details of what was required of a building for special education.

She added: “We are happy to share this with the council, saving them the cost and delays of yet more consultants.”

The campaigners said the decision to hold another review was ‘infuriating’.

A spokesman said: “They are spending money on another review that is not required as they already have all the facts and information they need. Why don’t they read all their existing documents?

“Building costs continue to increase and such delays ultimately mean [the council] spending even more to meet their statutory duty for our special needs children who are so very vulnerable in their hands.”

Mr Jupp told members of a scrutiny committee that he would be joining consultants at Woodlands Meed in the ‘next few days or weeks’ to carry out an inspection.

This was news to Mrs Wilcock, who said she knew nothing of such a visit.

She added: “If the council really wanted to look at the structure and condition of the old prefabricated building, we would have thought they would have done so during the school holidays.”

The issue of Woodlands Meed will be discussed at a meeting of the cabinet on January 28 – almost one year after the council announced £20m to expand and rebuild the college.

Mr Jupp’s pledge that ‘suitable’funds would be ‘made available for adequate new investment in Woodlands Meed’ was greeted with caution, with Mrs Wilcock saying governors had yet to be told exactly what that meant.

Looking ahead to the vital cabinet meeting, she said: “The governors are very much hoping that a positive, acceptable decision will be made on January 28. 

“However, in the light of previous disappointments we are continuing to make contingency plans, should this prove not to be the case.”

Campaigners were more blunt in their assessment.

A spokesman said: “We expect a firm and final decision with the required planning application submitted, all recommendations upheld and the money released for the new college build by January.

“Anything short of that will be received with contempt.”