Fresh concern over delay to £20 million project to replace 'unfit' special needs college

Tap to watch a video report by ITV News Meridian's James Dunham

There is more concern over the latest delay to build a new £20 million college in Sussex for children with special educational needs.

Classrooms had been cleared at Woodlands Meed college in Burgess Hill for demolition work to start at the beginning of the summer, but this is now unlikely to happen.

Pupils from across East and West Sussex who are taught at the site are in desperate need of new facilities to replace the portacabin classrooms, cramped corridors and outside toilet which are unfit for teaching.

The toilet for pupils is in a portacabin outside Credit: ITV Meridian

By starting construction during the summer the aim was to minimise disruption for students, however a delay between West Sussex County Council confirming an agreement with the building contractor has led to the hold up.

West Sussex County Council, which first promised Woodlands Meed a new college as far back as 2009, insist the project remains on track for a 2023 opening.

However parents and governors, who have been fighting to get a new college, are concerned about the latest setback.

Classroom items had been boxed up ready for the work to start Credit:

"A delay is inevitable”, says Marion Wilcock who chairs the Governors at Woodlands Meed.

"For me personally it's frustrating but for the school and the school team it's desperate. We had anticipated the summer works and as a consequence the staff had packed up the classrooms. We'd made arrangements for temporary outdoor space and those were all cancelled on the last two days of term."

"Unfortunately there is still so much uncertainty, for the purpose of the development agreement, we still need some key documentation."

Andrew will be going to Woodlands Meed college when he's 14 Credit:

Each setback causes concern for families like the Hardings from Southwater near Horsham.

Ten year old Andrew - has ADHD - and will be going to Woodlands Meed college when he turns 14. He hopes the current facilities won't still be in use.

"It wouldn't be as good for my learning", says Andrew.

Andrew's father Danny is part of the campaign,

"I think the concern is two fold, one is around whether the site will be completed on time but the other concern is whether the site will be completed to its full potential. We think the delays will increase cost and we know it's a set budget so does that have an impact on the finished college?"

'Lack of communication is a problem'

Liberal Democrat opposition councillor Kirsty Lord says the lack of communication if a problem.

A West Sussex County Council spokesperson said:

"There continues to be a number of complex technical and legal issues to resolve with regards to the Woodlands Meed College project.

"Discussions are ongoing regarding the Development Agreement, which needs to be signed by all parties before the contractor can be formally appointed. Unfortunately, this has caused a delay to the start of the enabling works on the college site, which were due to commence shortly and will now not take place over the summer period as planned. We continue to engage with the college, who are the freeholders of the site, to reach a position where both parties can agree the Development Agreement which will allow the work to start at the earliest opportunity.

"In anticipation of these matters being resolved shortly, the County Council’s delivery team continues to progress this important project at its cost with the focus of completing the building in Spring 2023, in line with our original programme."

"We remain fully committed to this important £20million project and will update all parties when we are able to confirm when the work can start."