NORTH SOMERSET: School judicial review
Education bosses are “deeply disappointed” by legal action that could delay the opening of a £14million special school in Clevedon until September 2024.
The judicial review disputes the planning and appropriation processes followed by the North Somerset Council to secure land in Brookfield Walk that is beloved by residents.
The authority says there is no merit in the claim but accepts that it would not be appropriate to begin building work until the court has considered the application.
The £14million project will accommodate 85 pupils in a second site for Baytree School in Weston-super-Mare that had been due to open in September 2023.
Campaigners have fought it every step of the way, opposing the planning application, calling into question the council’s decision to choose the site and trying to secure legal protection for the land.
An online fundraiser trying to secure £15,000 to cover legal fees for the judicial review says: “Having exhausted all avenues for compromise through thousands of petition letters and over 1,000 objections to the plans, my legal representatives have advised that this is the only way forward.
“North Somerset Council and councils alike should not use green belt and public open space as free land.”
It says the open space is an invaluable asset for the community
With 15 days to go on the fundraiser, some £2,420 has been pledged.
Councillor Catherine Gibbons, the council’s executive member for children’s services and lifelong learning, said: “I am deeply disappointed for our special educational needs community and for everyone who has worked so hard to make this school expansion a reality.
“We have a growing community of children with extreme and profound needs who desperately need and deserve this new facility for their education.
“As a council we are committed to openness, honesty and integrity. We care passionately about giving our children the best start in life, but to begin work on site now could be interpreted as not taking the judicial process seriously, and we will not do anything that could compromise the future of this project. We must follow due process.”
The council-owned site in Brookfield Walk was selected from more than 500 options after an ‘exhaustive’ search. It will accommodate up to 85 pupils.
Planning permission was granted in September 2020 despite more than 1,000 objections and a bid to have the land listed as a town green failed.
Cllr Gibbons added: “Given the huge amount of passion, commitment and energy that our officers and the school have put into this project already, my hope for everyone is that this delay is a short one.
“However, it will mean that the chances of us having the school completed in time for opening in September 2023 are slim, with September 2024 now looking like a more realistic date.
“This delay will impact on a lot of children who will not now benefit from education at this purpose-built site which is heart-breaking for everyone involved, and especially their families.
“The delay will also incur contractual penalties, pushing up the overall cost of the project. This will impact on our special educational needs budget overall, meaning less money to spend elsewhere.”
Baytree School headteacher Ed Bowen-Roberts said: “Without the additional site in September 2023, we will not be able to provide places for all the children who we need to be at the school. We simply don’t have the room.
“This will mean more children having to travel out of the area, more time away from home on longer journeys, and less time with their families.
“I hope this matter is resolved soon and that work can get under way on this much-needed site for the benefit of so many children and their families.”
Words: Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter
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