Ultimatum delivered to Burgess Hill special school on new college build

West Sussex County Council has sprung an ultimatum on Woodlands Meed governors – sign the paperwork or there will be no new college.

Friday, 29th October 2021, 3:50 pm
Woodlands Meed has been fighting for years to get purpose built college facilities built for its students

A letter was sent to governors of the Burgess Hill special school during half-term, giving them one week to sign a Development Agreement, which needs to be approved before building work can begin.

The letter arrived when some senior staff and the school’s legal advisor were taking holidays, meaning they probably won’t read it until Monday, leaving the governors very little time to meet the deadline of Thursday (November 4).

It concluded: “In the event that these documents are not completed…the proposal to develop a new college on the Woodlands Meed site will be withdrawn and the project will not proceed as planned.”

Nigel Jupp, cabinet member for learning and skills, said neither he nor the officers knew who would and would not be around during half-term.

He added: “This documentation and all the other details have been going backwards and forwards between the parties for many, many months.

“From time to time points are raised that need further discussion.

“But really we’ve got to the stage where it is not fair on those 100 children looking forward to moving into a new building to be delayed.”

Over the many months that the new college has been in the pipeline, governors have raised a number of issues. In the spring, they asked the council to make more than 180 corrections to plans and documents.

And while some of the issues – such as increasing the height of a room to make room for a hoist – have been dealt with, others have not, prompting repeated communications between the two.

But the letter, from Tony Kershaw, director of law and assurance, said the council had considered the matters raised recently ‘but cannot accept them as reasonable and sees no purpose in planning to discuss them further…as this is not likely to be fruitful and will only add to delays’.

Mr Jupp said the council had incurred costs of ‘way in excess of £1m’, paying for consultants, commissioning surveys, drawing up plans and covering planning costs.

The council has now added £1.66m to the £20m previously allocated to the project – but Mr Jupp said inflation on building costs were in danger of exceeding that extra money.

He added: “Inflation is potentially running in the order of £140,000 per month on that building contract.

“If the signing is delayed, we would be in jeopardy of incurring extra inflation costs which, at the moment, we do not have the budget for.”

Once the Development Agreement is signed, builders are expected to be on site by December, with the work scheduled to be completed by Spring 2023.

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.

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.

Mr Jupp said: “West Sussex County Council remains very much committed to Woodland Meed’s 100 pupils and their parents, ensuring they have the facilities that are right for them as soon as possible.

“Following many months of discussion with the college, talking through concerns and issues, I am confident that we now have in place a viable plan to deliver the new build by Spring 2023.

“I believe that we have found fair, reasonable, and practical solutions for a way forward that will work for all involved.”

The council will host an online public for the parents/carers of children at Woodlands Meed on Tuesday November 2 between 7-8pm.

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