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Another Twist Yet To Come For The Pending Woodlands Meed College Build?

3rd October 2021 | By Peter Chapman

There could be a devastating twist in store for parents and campaigners of Woodlands Meed College with construction still yet to commence on the long-awaited new building for 14-19 year-olds.

West Sussex County Council were set to bring heavy machinery and materials on site during the Summer holidays to avoid disruption to both Woodlands Meed and Birchwood Grove schools, but this didn’t occur due to failing to reach an agreement with the Woodlands Meed Governors on finer points of the project

Ahead of the 2021 County Council Elections, the local authority were in full P.R mode, celebrating that the new college was on schedule to be delivered 6 months earlier than expected - spring 2023 and not the autumn – despite September 2022 being the previously compromised date with Governors, which just highlights how far this project continues to slip....

At a meeting of the County’s Children and Young People's Services Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday 29th September, Nigel Jupp – Cabinet member for Education and Skills, was present to give an update on the current delays, but one little detail he fleetingly mentioned and wasn’t probed on by councillors could prove most pivotal for the chances of the new building going ahead at all.

During his address to the committee, Cllr Jupp reminded everyone how the design and construction project began in May 2020 following cabinet approval with a budget of £20 million. Nigel was keen to point out that this is a capital cost of £200k per pupil – due to the site’s typography and significant constraints.   

Cllr Jupp said: “Whilst at the time it was recognised that this cost per pupil represented a possible 33% premium on a rule of thumb of £150k per pupil for similarly sized special schools of this type, it was decided to proceed at pace with a project on the foundation’s land.

“When we have agreement on these documents, we will request the final costs and project programme from the contractor ISG. We need these documents agreed before requesting any further information, because any further delay will have program implications which will in turn impact on costs.

“When the programme and costs have been received – and subject to being acceptable to this council and within the project budget - we can then enter into the formal works contract.”

But what if it’s not within budget? Cllr Jupp was not asked this at the meeting, nor did he volunteer what would happen if the contractor can’t do it for under £20 million. 

It’s been widely reported that construction costs have risen by 20% last summer, so what if the cost is now going to be £24 million+?

woodlands meed college burgess hill

Evidence Mounts....
Earlier this month, local democracy reporter Karen Dunn wrote about the council council’s finance meeting.  This is where things get more concerning.

Karen wrote: “A report to a council scrutiny committee laid out the financial position as of the end of June – the end of the first quarter – with councillors being told that ‘uncertainty is still our theme word’.

The bulk of the problem came from the Children & Young People portfolio and the Learning & Skills portfolio, which showed £3.1m and £1.92m projected overspends respectively.

Jeremy Hunt, cabinet member for finance, said: “Obviously the team are working hard to contain this expenditure but the cost pressures just keep rising."

Showing 'Good Faith'
Back to last weeks meeting, and Nigel Jupp said that the council have shown good faith in the project by spending nearly £2 million externally on surveys, professional fees and other services along with senior officers of the council spending significant time on it.

"Once the revised date for the start has been agreed - and together with its completion date - we will obviously advise all stakeholders and the committee.

"This situation is not one that I had anticipated when I started on this road 18 months ago however, I remain very hopefully that we are close to an agreement and to a start on site."
he said.

That's great Nigel, but what about those costs? The nervous wait continues.


Spread the word, the wait for the new Woodlands Meed College building still goes on, full of uncertainty.

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