AROUND 100 villagers crowded into Stedham Memorial Hall for a public meeting on Monday (November 11) night to express their concerns over the latest plans for an inner city weekly boarding school at the former St Cuthman’s School.
They came from Stedham, Iping, Redford and Woolbeding to look at the amended plans submitted by the Durand Academy which included scrapping the proposed sixth form block.
But villagers voted unanimously to continue their fight against the plans.
The meeting was organised jointly by Stedham with Iping and Woolbeding with Redford parish councils who will be making their official comments in the next week on the plans, for submission to the planning authority, the South Downs National Park Authority.
Chairman of Woolbeding with Redford parish council Anne Reynolds said: “It is basically the same proposal in that the visual impact has not been reduced, the built form is the same and there is in fact an increased number of buildings, and the footprint has increased in area equal to four superstores!”
Stephen McGairl told the meeting: “This amended plan is too big on too small and sensitive a site. The proposed school is three times as big as the previous St Cuthman’s on a site half the size.” He said the new buildings were ‘totally out of place’ and would result in ‘urbanisation’ of the site.
“From the transport point of view, the site is unsafe for its intended purpose and West Sussex County Council’s highways officers say safe and suitable access cannot be achieved.”
Nearby Stedham campsite is used by 2,000 young people a year who enjoy the beautiful, tranquil and remote area: “It will no longer be beautiful, tranquil or remote if Durand gets its way,” he said.
Leading campaigner Kate Hearle explained changes in the plans from the original submitted in April: “I think the mere fact that there is so much having to be done to make it faintly palatable, proves the point that this is the wrong scheme, the wrong size in the wrong place.”
Adrian Hearle said he was increasingly concerned about the £17.34m government funding which had been promised to the project: “If they reduce the number of pupils from 600 to 375 for the same amount of funding, it is absolutely scandalous,” he told the meeting.
He said the worry was that if Durand received funding it could start putting up buildings, but not a school which could be opened: “and we will be left with a white elephant.” The fear was he stressed that it could be ‘sold off as a village’.
The Durand Academy is holding a public meeting in Lodsworth Village Hall tomorrow from midday to 1.30pm to discuss the amended plans.
It will be chaired by Trevor Beattie, chief executive of the South Downs National Park Authority with representatives from the academy and its protect team also present.
See this week’s Observer (out Thursday, November 14), for our Behind the Headlines report on the plans.