It is plain that West Sussex County Council’s (WSCC) preferred location for any new secondary school in the north of our district, is at Southwater and not in North Horsham.
This is evidenced through a Freedom of Information request (FoI) which has released nearly a dozen documents including letters, maps with the Horsham school catchments areas marked and detailed policy documents. But the position of councillor Claire Vickers, Cabinet Member for Planning at Horsham District Council and local councillor for Southwater, is the polar opposite.
Councillor Claire Vickers’ predecessor in her post of Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning was councillor Ian Howard. In September 2012 councillor Howard announced a timetable at SPAG (which was then held in public before councillor Vickers held them in closed session) and reported in this newspaper setting out his housing strategy of 635 homes per annum, which could have included up to 2,500 homes in Southwater along with a new secondary school (for 11-16 or 11-18 year olds).
In April 2013 councillor Howard abruptly resigned and was replaced by councillor Vickers, who within a matter of a few short weeks had turned this plan on its head.
Councillor Vickers, now securely in post, argued for only 500 homes in Southwater (80 per cent fewer) and the moving of the secondary school from her ward of Southwater to North Horsham and in the ‘green belt’.
In an email (dated 17/4/12) from the Director of Learning at WSCC, David Sword, states apropos Southwater: ‘The data clearly shows that the projected increase in secondary school pupil numbers can be contained within the existing secondary schools, with some investment in additional classroom space, up until 2015. At some stage after 2015, a new school will be needed [in Southwater].’
In a 13-page policy document entitled ‘Meeting The Need For Additional Secondary School Places In The Horsham/Southwater Area’ the Executive Summary it states that: ‘Southwater is the largest area of population in West Sussex without a secondary school’ and at para 2 of the report it makes clear that: ‘travel distances for Southwater pupils to Horsham secondaries’ can be addressed through the provision of a new school.
At para 9.2 under ‘Preferred Options’ the report concludes: ‘It would seem to make sense to make use of the secondary school site being offered by developers in Southwater. WSCC has always sought to retain the planning option for a school in Southwater, should there be a requirement in the future and has worked closely with Horsham District to ensure developers reserve a site. Nearly 500 children travel from Southwater to Horsham and it is the largest centre of population in West Sussex that is not served by a secondary school.’
The FoI also addressed the cost to the taxpayer of bussing pupils out of Southwater village each day. In the academic year 2012/2013 (which is 190 school days) for 597 the cost was £216,516. This academic year of 2013/14 for the 610 pupils it will cost £234,707. These costs to the Horsham taxpayer will only increase as a result of councillor Vickers’ decision to move the secondary school to North Horsham which is a 16 mile daily round trip from Southwater to the Rusper roundabout.
I asked councillor Vickers at the council meeting on 11 December 2013 to explain her logic in placing the secondary school in North Horsham some eight miles away from Southwater but she obfuscated.
Confronted now with the release of this evidence from WSCC, and which has now been sent to all Horsham district councillors and to this newspaper so that it is placed in the public domain, she may wish to reconsider her answer again.
The reply from WSCC also makes clear that a secondary school in North Horsham would not be viable on its own in that location and WSCC state that therefore it is ‘possible’ that the school catchment area will extend northwards to pupils in Crawley.
So not only will our ‘green belt’ be physically reduced by 15 per cent but there will be further increasing of the coalescence of the two towns of Horsham and Crawley through a shared secondary school. If the housing strategy of councillors Ray Dawe, Claire Vickers, Helena Croft and Jim Rae is passed at council on 30 April 2014 - without the non-executive backbench members in both the Conservatives and Lib Dems and two Independents voting against it - then ‘Crawsham’ will become a reality
Dr GEOFFREY RICHARDSON
Tennyson Close, Horsham