Hope for Haywards Heath college site as minister recognises 'need'

A schools minister has agreed there is a need for sixth form provision in Mid Sussex and to meet this ‘gap’ she has said the Government will look into bringing the Haywards Heath college site back into use.

The news has been described by our MP Sir Nicholas Soames as a ‘really important step forward’.

Schools minister Anne Milton

Schools minister Anne Milton

It was officially announced at a full council meeting last night.

Here is how we broke the news: Government to look into bringing Haywards Heath college site back into use

Led by the MP, West Sussex County Council, Mid Sussex District Council, the Local Enterprise Partnership (Coast to Capital LEP) and the University of Sussex, a case was put to the Government that the site should be brought back into use and a sixth form should be created.

In a recent letter to Sir Nicholas, MP Anne Milton, minister of state at the Department for Education, said the case had been accepted by the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

The former Central Sussex College campus in Haywards Heath

The former Central Sussex College campus in Haywards Heath

Sir Nicholas said: “I am so pleased that the minister has accepted the case we have made. This is an excellent example of local organisations coming together to make a compelling case.

The two councils, the LEP and the University of Sussex have worked very hard on behalf of local communities.

“As more houses are built and the district grows, it is essential that there is a good quality sixth form for young people. It is terrible to see the Harlands Road site sitting empty and young people having to travel long distances to get to colleges outside the district.”

The Haywards Heath campus of the former Central Sussex College in Harlands Road closed last July when the college was overwhelmed with £25million of debts.

Mid Sussex MP Sir Nicholas Soames

Mid Sussex MP Sir Nicholas Soames

The site was purchased by the Government in August last year for an undisclosed sum, ‘with a view to it being used for educational purposes in future’.

Speaking exclusively to the Middy this week, Garry Wall, leader of the district council, said recognition from the minister was the ‘first major step in bringing the college back to use’. “What it is, is a clear message from the Government that it should happen,” he said.

“We have been pushing to bring the Harlands Road site back into use, and a lot of work has been done to look at future needs for post-16 education, particularly around skills needed in this area.

“It is not an easy process to bring a college back into use, particularly this one, so this is the first major step in bringing it back into use, but it still doesn’t mean it is certain.

Garry Wall, leader of Mid Sussex District Council

Garry Wall, leader of Mid Sussex District Council

“It has to go through the Structure and Prospects Appraisal (SPA) process and the Education and Skills Funding Agency do this. It will work through the detail and business case.”

Mr Wall said if the business case is approved by the Education and Skills Funding Agency it will then put it out to other colleges and institutions which may wish to run the college.

He added: “It is an important and fundamental step in the journey – to get the college back into use.”

Mr Wall described what the reality is for our students today going to college. He said they were being ‘poorly served by sixth form provision’. “They are getting up early, going on a bus or train to one of the colleges on the coast like BHASVIC,” he added.

“They have got to do their work and get back on that journey again. You are looking at 12 to 14 hour days for some students. And the reality of this of course is that students eventually may not stick with their coursework, it puts an unbearable strain on coursework.

“I have even had a letter from an eight-year-old girl, which was written in red crayon. It said ‘where will I go to college when I am older?’ It is that type of reality at local political level that makes you realise. I have had a few examples of students who have basically had to give up because the challenge of getting to college is too great.

“We know people have suffered as a direct result of the college not being there – it is especially a challenge for students in our rural villages.”

Bringing the college back is an integral part of the overall planning for Mid Sussex over the next 20 plus years, Mr Wall told the Middy. He said it was one of the ‘building blocks’ in building a ‘sustainable community that serves the whole of Mid Sussex’.

He also said the college will link to new jobs that were already forming in the district, for example at The Hub off the A2300 in Burgess Hill, part of the Burgess Hill regeneration programme. Those jobs will be available next year, Mr Wall said.

He added: “What we are trying to do as a council is build communities that have a sense of place. Whilst the college clearly meets demand now it fits very much with the council’s holistic approach in planning for Mid Sussex over the next 20 plus years.

“When we are building homes for the future, people automatically think about roads, then they think about schools, GPs, educational facilities, so when you start to think about that holistically that requires a certain amount of planning.”

The Haywards Heath college campus underwent a £30million rebuild between 2011 and 2013.

When it closed principal Sarah Wright said it was a ‘huge blow’. Many residents were also shocked about the closure and described having no sixth form provision in Haywards Heath as ‘appalling’.

Asking Mr Wall what work had been involved at the council in getting to this point he said the journey had been ‘tough’ but it had reached a ‘significant milestone’ in getting the college reopened. “This council has always been behind the college reopening,” he added.

“We will continue to work with all stakeholders to make sure we get the very best post-16 provision for young people in Mid Sussex because they are our future and they fit our economic model moving forward.

“We want Mid Sussex to remain a place where people can grow up, go to school, learn and then take an active role in the community.”

Councillor Richard Burrett, deputy leader of the county council and cabinet member for education and skills, said the council was ‘keen’ to be a partner in, and facilitator of, any project that may emerge as part of the work.

Jonathan Sharrock, chief executive of Coast to Capital, said businesses were ‘growing strongly’ in the area. He added: “We need to ensure that high quality education is provided in the local area so that young people are able to access good local jobs when they leave education.”

Professor Adam Tickell, vice chancellor of the University of Sussex, added: “I am delighted that the Government supports the plans for a sixth form in Haywards Heath.

"Experts from the University will be supporting the plans and will work with our partners to ensure that the sixth form will provide a high quality education for local students.”

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