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School plan protestors admit defeat

PUBLISHED: 10:48 30 December 2008 | UPDATED: 22:06 05 July 2010

CAMPAIGNERS fighting plans to build a special school unit on a playing field near their homes have been forced to concede defeat after the government refused to get involved in the dispute.

CAMPAIGNERS fighting plans to build a special school unit on a playing field near their homes have been forced to concede defeat after the government refused to get involved in the dispute.

Suffolk County Council controversially voted in favour of building a pupil referral unit (PRU) on land off Saturn Close, in north Lowestoft, but was required to refer the matter to the Communities Secretary Hazel Blears.

This happened after Sport England objected to the application, submitted by the county council's education department, because of the loss of open space.

The council's development control committee controversially voted in favour of the PRU earlier this month, despite admitting the decision went against local planning guidelines on the development of open space.

A letter from the county council to a protester explained that Ms Blears took the view that the council had considered relevant planning guidelines when coming to its decision.

It added: “The Secretary of State is satisfied the issues raised do not relate to matters of more than local importance, which would be more appropriately decided by her rather than the local planning authority. She has, therefore, concluded that the application should be decided by Suffolk County Council.”

The £1.7m school unit, planned to replace the dilapidated Harbour PRU will provide education for 24 pupils with behavioural or emotional problems.

The county council argued that the need for the new PRU, to be built on 17pc of a playing field used by Harris Middle School, should override planning policy.

However, nearly 200 people signed a petition against the plans, largely on the grounds of loss of open space and an increase in traffic.

Protester Ray Oubridge said the government's decision not to intervene in the case meant residents would now have to admit defeat.

He added: “I feel a little disappointed in the system when a county council can blatantly acknowledge it is going against government legislation, local planning policy and an objection from Sport England, and still go ahead and build this on a playing field.”

A county council spokesman said: “Suffolk County Council considers planning applications fairly and carefully before reaching any decision.

“On considering the detail of the application, the Secretary of State advised the county council that the decision was one to be taken locally and that the appropriate decision-making process had been followed.”

The council says the section of land earmarked for the PRU is surplus to Harris Middle School's requirements.

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