New Eastbourne special school given green light

Proposals to open a new special school in Eastbourne have been given the go ahead, despite concerns about disturbance to a nearby hospice.

On Tuesday (February 25), Eastbourne Borough Council’s planning committee approved proposals to build a new Special Educational Needs school on land adjacent to Broadwater Way in Hampden Park. 

To be known as Summerdown School, it would  provide spaces for up to 135  to pupils with both a diagnosis of autism as well as complex learning and medical needs.

Both currently have limited spaces in Eastbourne and East Sussex as a whole. 

However, the proposals, which had been put forward by the Department for Education, had seen concerns raised by neighbours St Wilfrid’s Hospice, due to fears the school traffic could cause disruption to families of those receiving palliative care.

Speaking on behalf of the hospice, its chief executive David Scott-Ralphs said: “We have been in discussion with those behind the school plans for the best part of two years and we have been consistent throughout that period.

“We do not object to the building of the school next to us. We understand and appreciate the need for this facility in Eastbourne.

“Our concerns have always been about two things; the potential impact on our access to the hospice for patients, families, ambulances and other visitor and the potential noise impact, given the outside play areas are going to be quite close to the boundary with the hospice inpatient unit.”

Mr Scott-Ralphs also raised concerns about the loss of the hospice’s overspill parking as a result of a new access being created for the school.

The committee also heard that the hospice had set up a petition requesting alternative access arrangements be considered, including widening the road. These alternative access arrangements were thought to be too expensive, however.

Once open, the school is expected to provide education for up to 84 children between the ages of 5 and 16 with a diagnosis of autism. 

The site would also include a separate centre (to be called the Southfield Centre), for up to 51 learners with complex learning and medical needs, bringing the potential total number of pupils up to 135.

According to planning officers, the majority of pupils would be picked up and dropped off by taxis. Their arrival would be governed by a staggered travel plan each day, in an effort to reduce disruption, officers said.

Turning to the discussion, committee members spoke about the work which had gone into balancing the needs of both sites.

Committee chairman Jim Murray said: “We have worked really hard to try and come to some sort of compromise and as far as I see it we have an entrance to a school, with a lot of traffic going in and out of it, in somebody’s driveway. That driveway happens to be the local hospice. 

“At a time when you are feeling most fragile in life, where you have your parents or loved ones in a terrible situation do you want to have that kind of upset. 

“That is really the thing we were trying to fight against and we really couldn’t find a way out of it.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Peter Diplock, meanwhile, described it as “a football match where you want both sides to win”.

Following further discussion the application was unanimously approved by the committee. 

As part of this approval, the committee also opted to add an additional condition requiring developers to install a permanent acoustic fence before building work began.

As part of the site is currently used as a playing field, the planning permission is subject to call in by the secretary of state for determination. Should this not happen the planning permission will be subject to the signing of a s.106 agreement.