‘Miracle’ of new college for Burgess Hill special school approved

Brand new college facilities for a Burgess Hill special school have been given the thumbs up.

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 9:19 am

Campaigners, parents and governors at Woodlands Meed have spent most of the past decade fighting for fit for purpose facilities for older pupils who are based at the Birchwood Grove site.

Last May West Sussex County Council agreed to spend £20million on replacing the tired and dilapidated prefabricated buildings.

An application for purpose-built facilities south of the existing college buildings was approved by the county council’s planning committee today (Tuesday March 30).

Woodlands Meed College. Pic Steve Robards SR20021703 SUS-200217-165144001

Although everyone enthusiastically welcomed the investment, there were some questions about the need for a three-metre high wooden fence screening nearby residential properties from noise from the all-weather pitch and multi-use games area (MUGA).

Meanwhile governor Marion Wilcock asked if the location of the MUGA could be swapped with a grassed area next to it.

Andrew Barrett-Miles (Con, Burgess Hill North)  said they ‘have no major problems with noise coming from that site’ and while Anne Jones called the overall plans a ‘miracle’ she felt installing such a high fence would be ‘crazy’.

Officers suggested they reword conditions so that the details of acoustic fencing is agreed after a period of monitoring to see whether it is required.

Artist's impression of new college buildings at Woodlands Meed

Mrs Jones (Con, Burgess Hill East) said she looked forward to the ‘magnificent’ buildings opening and was ‘proud’ of the work done by teachers, governors and parents.

The new college will have a greater amount of internal space, approximately 70 per cent more than the current school, with large classrooms and more specialist subject spaces. It will have a new sports hall, hydrotherapy pool and improved outdoor sporting facilities. The new design will be energy efficient to reduce the overall energy costs for Woodlands Meed.

Kirsy Lord (LDem, Hassocks and Burgess Hill South) described how the current hygiene facilities were inadequate while the site’s buildings and layout posed great difficulties for children with mobility issues. It is also unable to offer all the curriculum areas on site and lacks the necessary therapeutic facilities required.

She said: “Allow these children to benefit from these new facilities from the 2022-23 school year. No more children will have to go out of of county and children can access all the facilities they deserve to thrive.”

Officers explained how the area where the new buildings are due to be built slopes significantly and is currently incompatible with formal sports use with pupils having to go off-site for PE and sports sessions.

Building in this location means construction can take place while the existing school is still in use.

Nigel Jupp, cabinet member for education and skills, said: “This scheme has been a long time in its gestation period and I know from the public meeting we held in November there is considerable enthusiasm for this project from parents, teachers  and staff and the community recognises the worth this school provides.”

Liz Kitchen (Con, St Leonard’s Forest), committee vice-chairman, called the scheme ‘exciting and imaginative’ and spoke in favour of changing the conditions so an acoustic fence would only go in if its need was demonstrated.

The application with a number of amended conditions was approved unanimously.

After the meeting, Andrew Edwards, Director of Property and Assets, said: “Today’s planning approval marks another major milestone in this exciting project and I know will be welcomed by everyone connected with the school.

“The county council is committed to providing pupils and staff with the facilities they need to thrive. We look forward to continuing to work with the school and governors as we turn these plans into reality.”

The new college is expected to be completed in early December 2022, allowing pupils to use it from January 2023, five months sooner than originally scheduled. All additional playing areas and external works are due to be finished by June 2023, within the overall budget.

Mims Davies, Mid Sussex MP, said: “Superb news today for Woodlands Meed College students and leadership in their journey to gain new facilities at their Birchwood Grove Rd site in Burgess Hill, with the unanimous decision at WSCC Planning Committee today.

“This has been a long time coming for many families and I pay great tribute to all involved, Governors, staff and parents for their huge perseverance. I am delighted WSCC are determinedly delivering this important local facility by the end of 2022. It has been a much longed for outcome by many and I so delighted to this come to pass and we will watch with great interest to see this new two storey Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) College building take shape. I do look forward to the opportunity to visiting the school again once we are fully out of the current Covid-19 measures.”