Opening date for new Woodlands Meed college was ‘over-optimistic’

Plans to build Woodlands Meed College by September 2021 were ‘over-optimistic’, councillors have been told.

Friday, 24th January 2020, 9:34 am
Updated Friday, 24th January 2020, 9:44 am
Woodlands Meed School

The news will come as another huge disappointment to staff, parents and governors, who have been campaigning for the Burgess Hill special needs school to be finished since 2012.

The issue was raised while the draft budget for 2020/21 was being scrutinised at County Hall, Chichester.

Alarm bells sounded for some when reports showed the £20m already approved for the college had been split over four years – £1m in 2020/21, £5m in 2021/22, £7.5m in 2022/23 and £6.5m in 2023/24.

Andrew Barrett-Miles (Con, Burgess Hill North) questioned the spread of figures, asking if that meant the target for the college had slipped by three years.

He said: “Is this acceptable to a vulnerable group of people who feel hugely let down?”

Nigel Jupp, cabinet member for education, who has faced a baptism of fire since stepping into the role in October, said there was ‘no doubt’ the council wanted to ‘make substantial new investment in Woodlands Meed’.

Back in November 2018, the previous cabinet member said it was ‘full steam ahead’ with the project and said if ‘everything goes to plan’ the college site could be completed by September 2021.

But Mr Jupp told the meeting the plans for the college had been ‘perhaps over-optimistic’.

He said: “We’re moving ahead as quickly as we can do. We have to be prudent. This is a considerable sum of money.

“We have to meet the needs of those children and we will do it in the best and the most efficient way we can do.”

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Regarding the four-year spread of figures, Jeremy Hunt, cabinet member for finance, said this was a ‘normal way’ to split the cost and insisted ‘no malice’ had been intended.

But neither he nor Mr Jupp could say when any work would start.

Mr Hunt said: “We don’t know what the programme will be. If the project goes ahead it’s got to have a business case, it’s got to have planning and then we will know what the art of the possible is.”

His use of the word ‘if’ prompted Mr Barrett-Miles to question the less than positive message being put out by the county council, which he said was ‘not very helpful’.

He said: “The messages which we are giving out to the public are not positive.

“We’ve somehow got to rebuild their trust in us and we’ve got to give positive messages that we really are going to do this – which we haven’t done to date.”