Special school plans on hold

PUBLISHED: 09:19 24 October 2008 | UPDATED: 21:36 05 July 2010

FAMILIES fighting controversial plans to open a special school unit near their homes in Lowestoft were given fresh hope yesterday after councillors put off making a decision so they can visit the site.

FAMILIES fighting controversial plans to open a special school unit near their homes in Lowestoft were given fresh hope yesterday after councillors put off making a decision so they can visit the site.

Members of Suffolk County Council's development control committee went against planning officers' recommendation that they should approve the proposals for a new £1.7m pupil referral unit (PRU), off Saturn Close in the north of the town.

Protesters spoke of their delight following the unanimous vote to defer the matter for a site visit and revealed they now had the backing of a wealthy businessman, who has pledged to bankroll a legal challenge should the plans be given the go-ahead.

The county council's education bosses want to build a new PRU for youngsters with emotional or behavioural problems on a section of playing field belonging to Harris Middle School.

Protest leaders, who submitted a 180-signature petition against the plans, have been at pains to insist their campaign is largely centred on the loss of open space and the increase in traffic, and not about fears over the behaviour of pupils.

The county council's planning department has admitted the plans go against Waveney District Council's open space policy, but insisted yesterday that the need for the new PRU should override this.

Waveney has officially objected to the plans along with Sport England, while there have also been claims the proposal goes against national government guidance for development on open spaces.

The committee received a letter from Gunton ward councillor Keith Patience, urging them to vote for a site visit and members lined up to support him..

Ron Ward said: “I feel we ought to see the site for our own peace of mind.”

Morris Rose added: “I think it is vital we take into account the views of the local councillor and residents … I think a site visit is essential.”

After the meeting, protester Peter Plummer, of Saturn Close, said: “They have stopped to listen to what the residents have got to say. We thought they would just say 'yes' to the plans, so it was nice to see they didn't.”

Ray Oubridge, of Warren Road, added: “We don't object to the need for the site; we just don't think it should be on a playing field.”

While they now hope the plans will be axed following the site visit, they revealed businessman Mervyn Lambert, who runs a plant hire firm in Norfolk, has said he will pay their legal costs to seek a judicial review if the decision goes against them.

In recent months Mr Lambert, who used to live in Lowestoft, has spent tens of thousands of pounds fighting Waveney District Council's plans to sell-off the town's North Denes caravan park site to a private operator.

The new PRU would take up to 24 day pupils and replace the crumbling Harbour PRU, in School Road. It would use about 15pc of the playing field.

The Harbour PRU's headteacher, Paul Baverstock, spoke in favour of the plans at yesterday's meeting, revealing pupils were being taught in leaking mobile classrooms.

“For many children, it represents probably the last opportunity for integration into mainstream education,” he added.

The local education previously tried to relocate the Harbour PRU to a site off Walmer Road and Green Drive, in Pakefield, but had to abandon the plans after residents won their fight to have the land declared public open space.

The site visit will take place before the development control committee next meets on December 4.

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