Residents should not take school decision ‘lying down’

JPCT 02-06-12 S12230604A   Shelley Primary School, Broadbridge Heath  -photo by Steve Cobb
JPCT 02-06-12 S12230604A Shelley Primary School, Broadbridge Heath -photo by Steve Cobb

A councillor has called for residents not take a decision, which has put the future of a new village school in doubt, ‘lying down’.

Despite expectations of a big crowd only eight members of the public attended Broadbridge Heath’s parish council meeting at St John’s Community Hall on Monday, March 7.

At the top of the agenda was a discussion on the future of a new school at the Wickhurst Green development in the village.

The County Times revealed last month plans to relocate Shelley School, in Wickhurst Lane, and expand it on land set out in the new build had been dropped by West Sussex County Council (WSCC) due to a ‘prohibitive’ cost.

The Parish Council invited Graham Olway, principal manager for capital planning and projects at WSCC, along to the meeting to explain the council’s decision.

Mr Olway said the council had been forced to make the decision after changes were made to its funding by central government more than a year ago.

He said: “The decision has changed in the last 12 to 18 months and that’s a central government change.

“Because of the finances that we have, we don’t have sufficient funding in the capital funding pot to move and increase Shelley Primary School.

“We are still pursing a new school in the Broadbridge Heath development as it is something we feel will be needed to deal with the housing demand in the area.”

He said the council were looking at two alternatives.

“I am hopeful we can increase the provision at the current Shelley Primary School to meet the demand that is already there for the locality,” he said.

“What could be one outcome is the admission numbers could be increased to 45 or we could increase it to 60.

“We are not pursuing a move for Shelley Primary School but we are looking at expanding and improving its facilities.”

The increase could see the school hold more than 400 pupils.

The other option he said the council was also exploring, on top of the expansion, was the creation of a new two-form academy in Wickhurst Green, which would be funded by the Department of Education.

He said: “I think I can confirm the county council is unable to deliver the school but it is working with those who are able to.”

However, he added the final decision was not down to the county council and, if approved, the Department of Education may not build the new school at the site originally planned for Shelley’s relocation.

Viv Edwards, chairman of Broadbridge Heath Parish Council, raised concerns about what would happen to the land if a school was built elsewhere.

She said: “We as a parish council are very disappointed as the Masterplan clearly said that a new school would be built in the development.”

Mr Olway said he believed there was a ‘small risk’ the academy would be built in a different area.

He said: “I believe we will get a school there.”

Parish councillor Jonathan England said he felt let down by the county council as it had had plenty of time to plan the delivery of the school and inform the parish council and the community it could not afford it.

Questions were also asked about the money the council had received from section 106 agreements - money contributed by developers to improve and create local facilities.

Councillor Terry Oliver said: “Section 106 should deliver part of the site, the other part should be made up by the county council.

“It is extremely disappointing that a county council the size of West Sussex cannot deliver this expectation.”

Mr Olway explained the £1.5 million given to the council by the developers of Wickhurst Green was not enough to help cover the cost of the new school.

Mrs Edwards questioned the amount of money the council would have, adding together the section 106 agreements from Wickhurst and other developments in the village plus the sale of the land at the current location of Shelley primary school if it was relocated.

Mr Olway said he could not discuss the figures in the meeting but offered to talk to the parish council at a later date.

Councillor Christine Knight also raised concerns about Shelley and the new academy’s catchment areas and the schools competing for places.

Councillor Geoff Clark, who is also a governor at Shelley, said: “It is very disappointing to be at this stage now.

“Last October we thought this plan would go ahead. It may have been delayed by a year or two but we still believed it would go ahead.

“I think we have a long way to go and I would like to see the community follow it up as I don’t think we should take this lying down.”

Speaking after the meeting Broadbridge Heath resident Sue Sturt said: “It is ludicrous really.

“These poor people are buying these new houses and are promised a new school that is not going to be there.”

Jade Raymond moved into the new development last year with her three-year-old, who is set to start school next year.

She said: “Personally from my point of view I feel like we are being promised things that may not happen.”

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