Start of building work on new Woodlands Meed College could be delayed

Building work at Woodlands Meed College could be delayed until after the summer holidays, West Sussex County Council has announced.

Thursday, 1st July 2021, 12:01 pm

While the hope is that work on the £20m special needs college, in Burgess Hill, will start in late July/early August as planned, some issues have been raised about the internal layout.

During a scrutiny committee meeting on Wednesday (June 30), Nigel Jupp, cabinet member for learning and skills, said he would be meeting with governors and the director of property to ‘go through various items that are still outstanding’

Mr Jupp told the meeting that the internal design of the college, in Birchwood Grove Road, had been the ‘subject of some discussion and review’ and that there had been ‘different interpretations of the situation’ between the various parties.

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

In a statement released after the meeting, he added: “Following agreement between all parties on the location of the various rooms in February, we accommodated a number of design changes which the college and governors requested.

“However, further requests have been made by the college, which if agreed, would increase the overall cost and potentially delay the start of the project until after the summer holiday; when pupils are on site and would be impacted by the noisiest of the building works.

“We continue to seek agreement with the college and governors on creating the best possible new facilities within the council’s financial resources.”

In an update on the Woodlands Meed website, governors said they did not find out until the middle of June that the project was in danger of going over budget.

The update added: “But again [the council] refuse to disclose what element of the project is causing a problem and why this is arising at this late stage.”

There was also criticism of Mr Jupp, who they said had not replied to ‘urgent requests for information’ sent on June 14 and June 21.

A statement from the Complete Woodlands Meed campaign said: “We are angry and frustrated. There have been multiple failed attempts from our campaign to secure an update from Nigel Jupp at WSCC since May and there is still no date for the promised virtual public meeting.

“Complete silence from WSCC since May is not acceptable. There are clearly delays and/or challenges so this lack of transparency leads everyone to worry yet again plus not trust or respect WSCC’s real intentions.

“We understand there are outstanding items (WSCC errors and documentation) and now even budget concerns are being flagged by WSCC themselves post them relocating surplus funds.

“As we have said many times before WSCC are still not honouring their statutory duties, The Equality Act, The Education Act, WSCC’s best start in life and WSCC’s own values. Parents, carers and families feel very let down, anxious and stressed.

“The Woodlands Meed College building is not suitable for their needs and yet again there appear to be unnecessary delays. THe council continue to show a blatant disregard for these vulnerable children which is disgraceful.”

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, with former MP Sir Nicholas Soames saying it had behaved “dishonourably”.

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.

All that changed in 2020 when it was agreed to use up to £20m from the capital programme to build a new college, with planning permission given earlier this year.

The aim is to finish building work in December 2022, allowing the children to move in in January 2023 and finishing all outside works and landscaping by May 2023.

It’s a target which everyone hopes to hit, despite this latest hiccup.

Mr Jupp said: “I’m very hopeful that this project will go ahead on time.

“There can be no doubt about the commitment of this council towards this school – absolutely no doubt about it at all.”