Dad's disappointment over school petition

A father said he was 'very disappointed' after petitions calling on West Sussex County Council to complete his son's school failed to trigger a debate.

Wednesday, 30th November 2016, 8:36 pm
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 12:53 pm
Woodlands Meed

Paul Watson, whose son attends Woodlands Meed, in Burgess Hill, submitted an online petition just short of 2,000-signatures and a 1,400-signature paper petition to the council on November 21 with a request for a full council debate to be held on December 16.

But he and members of the Woodlands Meed Action Group were told hundreds of the signatures did not count towards the required 3,000 total as they came from people outside West Sussex.

Mr Watson said: “I had pointed out that many parents, pupils, carers and staff are from outside the area and hoped that common sense would prevail.

“Unfortunately it didn’t.”

The county council discarded 349 signatures from people in East Sussex and Surrey and told Mr Watson that, even if they had been allowed, he would not have collected enough valid signatures to trigger a debate.

A letter from the council’s democratic services team told the action group boundaries had to be set and added: “I know you will be disappointed to not get the full 3,000 signatures but there are options rather than a full county council debate.

“Officers are getting together to discuss these early this week. Following these discussions we will come back to you to discuss the way forward.”

Mr Watson said: “Naturally I, and the other members of the Woodlands Meed Action Group were surprised and very disappointed that so many signatures were disallowed because they were from outside of the West Sussex area.”

Woodlands Meed opened in 2012 with pledges already in place for the county council to expand the facilities to include a college for 14-19-year-olds.

The funding for that college has never surfaced and a lack of space has forced Woodlands Meed to turn away students once they reach the age of 14.

Support for Woodlands Meed reached the halls of Parliament earlier this month, with Mid Sussex MP Sir Nicholas Soames saying he felt the county council had treated the school “extraordinarily badly and, in my view, dishonourably”.

Mr Watson said: “I can’t help feeling that the whole petition process that WSCC operates sets you up to fail pretty much from the beginning so we will be reviewing our options but in the meantime the petition will remain open and collecting signatures.”

A council spokesman said: “The county council takes all petitions seriously and responds to all petitions.

“The scheme does have certain thresholds, including 3,000 valid signatures to secure a county council debate, which is a low number compared to many other councils. This petition contains 2,543 signatures from the county.

“While this will not trigger a debate at the county council meeting, there are other options available for the petition to be considered by the county council and officers will be getting in touch with the lead petitioner very soon to discuss those options.”

To sign the petition, log on to