Plans for Hailsham special school given green light

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Proposals to build a new special school in Hailsham have been given the go ahead by councillors 

An application to build a specialist school for children with Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) needs at Reef Way was approved by East Sussex County Council’s planning committee today (Wednesday August 14). 

While the application had been put forward by the county council itself, the school is expected to be run as an academy free school by The Beckmead Trust.

Before making their decision, committee members heard from Anthony Julian of the East Sussex ISEND team (Inclusion, Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) and Dr Jonty Clark of The Beckmead Trust. 

Mr Juilan said: “I thought it would be helpful from a children’s services point of view to give a bit of context [to the application]. It is mainly around the rise in the number of children with social, emotional and mental health needs in East Sussex.

“In January 2016, out of 2,756 children with special educational needs, 420 had SEMH. But by January 2019 there were 605 pupils with SEMH.

“While many of these children are placed within mainstream schools, that isn’t always satisfactory. It is not always a good provision and cannot always meet their needs.

“In which case the local authority has to place them in an independent, non-maintained provision, private schools in effect, which has an average yearly cost of £60,000 per pupil, per year.”

Mr Julian added that this private provision is “not always of a great standard” and stressed how the site had been set aside for a school for some time.

While the application was approved unanimously, some concerns were raised over the potential disruption to residents of Reef Way from school traffic. 

In a letter read at the meeting, ward councillor Bob Bowdler (Con, Hailsham Market) raised concerns about existing parking problems on Reef Way, which he said had caused issues at its junction with Battle Road.

He said: “I welcome this application for the provision of a social, emotional and mental health specialist school, which has been allocated and promised for Hailsham for seven years. 

“My reservations are twofold. Firstly what affect the facility will have on the amenity of [care home] Bentley Grange, which is occupied by elderly residents who value their quiet surroundings.

“Secondly, the junction of Reef Way and Battle Road. Reef Way is used as overflow parking by staff and visitors to Bowes House, a residential care home in Battle Road.

“This can cause issues at the traffic light system, which can in turn cause traffic holdups on Battle Road, a main artery into Hailsham Town centre.

“Has this junction been taken into consideration [and] has any resolution been determined?”

In response, officers said the council would be seeking a traffic regulation order on Reef Way to prevent parking there and any other measures considered to be appropriate by the highways department.

Officers also said the school would be expected to operate staggered timings for drop-off and pick-up times, which is intended to avoid overspill of parking into Reef Way.

Similar concerns had been raised by neighbours in formal objections to the scheme.

In all council planners have received 10 objections from local residents, which also raised concerns about the potential impact on wildlife, the loss of an informal recreational space and general infrastructure pressures within Hailsham.

In light of these concerns, several councillors called on officers to ensure the eventual highways arrangements would limit impact on neighbours.

They included Cllr Pat Rodohan (Lib Dem, Eastbourne Upperton) who said: “I very much welcome this much needed educational facility for East Sussex. 

“I’m confident, with all the specialism within East Sussex Highways, that we can overcome the parking problems and driving problems. 

“I live very close to a school and there are challenges, but I would ask the highways specialists to look very carefully at finding solutions, because if it is not sorted out on day one then it won’t be done.”

Meanwhile, Cllr Godfrey Daniel (Lab, Hastings Braybrooke and Castle) said: “Whenever you have a school of any description, or other development, there will be a traffic impact. 

“It has to be said that this site has been allocated for a school before the houses were actually built. The people living in these houses would have known about potential traffic from schools.”

Following further discussions the application was unanimously approved, with planning permission to be granted after the drawing up of a legal agreement for road improvements in Reef Way. 

According to planning documents, the school – to be arranged into an upper and lower school with separate entrances – is to provide places for around 80 pupils between the ages of four- and 16-years-old.

As well as classroom and playground space, the school will include 57 car parking spaces for staff and visitors and 22 drop-off and pick-up spaces. 

For further details of the application see reference WD/3400/CC on the East Sussex County Council planning website.