The application was given the nod by Horsham District Council’s planning committee on Tuesday (September 7), much to the delight of the school.
Headteacher Simon Reid said: “At Christ’s Hospital our commitment to our core goal of social responsibility encourages us to make a difference in our local community.
“We offer our amenities, engage with organisations and welcome members of the local community to enjoy the school’s grounds and facilities.
“Ensuring community use of our facilities is vitally important to us and we want everyone from the local area to be able to benefit from and enjoy these new facilities.”
The school has five years to start work on the new facilities, which will include an all-weather athletics track, fitness adventure trail, 4G all-weather rugby and football pitch, and a two-storey extension to the Bluecoat Sports Centre to provide an enlarged gym, second swimming pool and fitness studios.
There will also be an Exploratorium, which a spokesman described as ‘a new concept in outdoor fitness’.
She added: “Currently there are only two in operation, both outside the UK and this element of the project brings an exciting new innovative concept in outdoor fitness to West Sussex.”
It has been quite a journey for the plans, which were last refused in September 2019 on the grounds that they would cause ‘significant landscape harm’.
The subsequent appeal was postponed in May, rescheduled for November and has now been withdrawn.
In the meantime, the council made a U-turn over its reasons for refusal, saying in March that ‘new evidence’ had come to light and there was no longer ‘a defensible reason’ to turn it down.
This latest application had a couple of key differences to the last.
The 272-space car park will include 47 electric vehicle charging points, and an extra 12 trees – oaks and hornbeams – will be planted along Christ’s Hospital Road.
There will be a new permanent access on to Christ’s Hospital Road and the Infirmary Drive access will be closed, with the disused section of the drive converted into a sprint track.
Despite the council’s change of heart, 24 objections to the plans were submitted.
Concerns included: an increase in noise and traffic on ‘inadequate’ local roads, pedestrian safety, light pollution from the flood-lights, and over-development of the site.
Some councillors shared the concerns about the roads, with Christine Costin (Lib Dem, Trafalgar) calling the situation ‘quite serious’.
Others, though, fully supported the application, with Brian Donnelly (Con, Pulborough, Coldwaltham & Amberley) describing it as ‘fantastic’ and a benefit to the community.
The school spokesman said the sports centre attracted around 13,000 visitors each month to use facilities such as the fitness suite, group exercise classes, swimming and children’s activities.
The outdoor facilities are used by around 400 people per week from ten local clubs.
To view the application in full, log on to public-access.horsham.gov.uk and search for DC/21/1524.