Go-ahead for pupil referral unit

PUBLISHED: 10:31 05 December 2008 | UPDATED: 21:56 05 July 2010

Controversial plans to build a special school unit on a playing field in Lowestoft have finally been given the go-ahead, despite the development being against planning policy.

Controversial plans to build a special school unit on a playing field in Lowestoft have finally been given the go-ahead, despite the development being against planning policy.

Suffolk County Council's development control committee yesterday voted unanimously for a £1.7m pupil referral unit (PRU) for children with emotional or behavioural problems to be built off Saturn Close, in the north of the town.

Nearly 200 angry neighbours had signed a petition against the application, largely on the grounds of a loss of open space and increase in traffic.

Objections were also lodged by Waveney District Council, because the application was contrary to its planning policy on open space, while Sport England also lodged its opposition, meaning the project must now be rubber-stamped by the government.

However, county council planning officer David Palk told yesterday's meeting: “Our argument is there is an overarching need for a PRU and a lack of alternative sites. It is in your gift to override the policy…”

The new development, covering 1.7 acres of land, would replacing the existing and dilapidated Harbour PRU, in School Road, and provide education for 24 pupils aged eight to 14, who face being thrown out of mainstream schools because of their behaviour.

The playing field is used by Harris Middle School and the new PRU would take up about 17pc of the site, which senior education officer Jan Scott said was surplus to requirement. She added that other sites had been looked at, but ruled out because of their size.

Julian Swainson, a Labour councillor who represents Lowestoft South, said: “This is a very difficult decision as on the one hand there is a clear need for a proper PRU for the children of Lowestoft and on the other there is the loss of… open space.

“On balance, I am in favour of granting planning permission because of the importance of the PRU. They turn round the lives of children.”

Education chiefs had previously wanted to build the PRU in Pakefield, but were thwarted after residents won a battle to have the proposed site declared public open space. The application for Saturn Close was then deferred from October because councillors wanted to make a site visit.

Bungay councillor Morris Rose added: “We need to be compassionate. We have the most vulnerable youngsters in our community and I think the bending of the rules a little on their behalf is allowed.”

Protester Ray Oubridge said after the meeting: “Naturally, we are disappointed. We do agree with the committee that a PRU is needed, but we still maintain it shouldn't be at the expense of playing fields.”

He added that campaigners would now consider their next step, which could involve seeking a judicial review.

The county council previously said it wanted to open the new PRU in October 2009. Last night, a spokesman said this was still the aim, but it could not be guaranteed.

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