CONTROVERSIAL plans to set up a weekly boarding school for inner city children at Stedham have been thrown out by members of the South Downs National Park Authority’s planning committee.
Members voted with their officers’ recommendation to refuse the plan from the Durand Academy to bring 375 pupils from Lambeth to a new weekly boarding school on the former St Cuthman’s School site.
They agreed it was a ‘finely balanced’ recommendation but felt it had not been proved that there was no scope to meet the need outside the national park, or that the harm to landscape character from the school itself and its construction, could be moderated.
As such they said it was contrary to a raft of policies which governed planning inside the national park.
After the meeting executive head of the Durand Academy Sir Greg Martin told the Observer: “This is a missed opportunity for these people. I am disappointed and we are now considering our options but I am confident that in the end we will deliver.”
There was delight in the camp of the Save Our National Park campaigners who have mounted vigorous opposition to the plans.
One of the campaign leaders Stephen McGairl, said: “We are relieved, but surprised that most of the committee members seemed to think that the education case was taken for granted when there is quite a lot of evidence that is is not the case.
Planning members faced their toughest decision yet with overwhelming objections from neighbouring communities to refuse the plan and on the other hand high profile support for the project from education secretary Michael Gove.
Chairman of Woolbeding with Redford Parish Council Anne Reynolds told the meeting “the Midhurst area does not need any more secondary school places and Midhurst Rother College still has capacity for more pupils.”
She said Durand had no prior consultation with the local community before it bought the site and a ‘woeful’ lack of discussion during the planning process.
“This site is too small, in the wrong location and with difficult access,” she told planners.
“Instead of engaging with the community Durand has spent £700,000 on public relations and lobbying in order to influence decision making,” and she urged the committee to ignore this and instead “focus on the inadequacies of this highly flawed scheme.”
The campaign’s transport consultant Brett Farmery told the committee he believed Durand’s travel plan busing children to and from London compromised highways safety.
He added: “The busing is contrary to the principles of sustainable development. There really is no reason for these children to travel so far on a regular basis.”
Tim Campbell, winner of the first ever Apprentice programme with Lord Sugar spoke in support of the Durand Academy, saying educational establishments such as the Durand Academy had given him the chance to become a high flier.
And Mark Dunn, former chairman of West Sussex County Council said: “There was colossal opposition to the Midhurst Rother College Academy now it has become an object of pride for the local community, it’s difficult to believe it but I am convinced in six years time you will be delighted with the Durand Academy.”
Sir Greg Martin said Durand had spent 28 months working with planners and the local community to change and develop plans and he believed they should be granted permission.
The committee voted by eight to three to refuse the plans.
Members went on to oppose their officers’ recommendation and threw out plans for alterations to the listed buildings particularly Wispers the grade 11 Richard Norman Shaw building and the construction of a new assembly hall next to it.
Full story in the Midhurst and Petworth Observer on Thursday, December 19