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Moreton Hall high school will not be ready for September

The ongoing Sybil Andrews Academy build on Moreton Hall, Bury St Edmunds
The ongoing Sybil Andrews Academy build on Moreton Hall, Bury St Edmunds

Building work on a new secondary school in Bury St Edmunds will not be completed in time for September, it has emerged.

Instead of students attending the Sybil Andrews Academy currently being constructed off Lady Miriam Way, on Moreton Hall, the county council will be activating its contingency plan.

The ongoing Sybil Andrews Academy build on Moreton Hall, Bury St Edmunds
The ongoing Sybil Andrews Academy build on Moreton Hall, Bury St Edmunds

This will see the academy’s first 200 pupils start their school year at the St James CEVA Middle School site, in The Vinefields, which is to be vacated at the end of the summer term as part of the town’s move from three tier to two tier education.

Andy Prestoe, academy principal, said: “We have been informed by Suffolk County Council that the projected build time is going to overrun.

“Although this is a little disappointing, it is not entirely surprising and is something that has been seen as a possibility by Suffolk County Council from the outset.

“The stunning, bespoke design, the complicated land transfer arrangements and the relatively short completion schedule have all played their part.

“We will now take up residence at the St James Middle School site in line with our contingency plan, and will deliver our curriculum and the ethos, as shared with parents, from September.

“In order to do this, we will be bringing some specialist equipment to our interim site to add to the already good facilities already there so that our excellent staff can do what they do best - teach great lessons. The school’s opening date for pupils, September 5, is unaffected.”

A spokesman for the county council said: “Building work taking place on the Sybil Andrews Academy has almost been concluded but will not be done in time for the start of the new school year in September 2016.”

He added: “During the transition period between the new school year and the move into the new Sybil Andrews Academy building, there will be no difference to the delivery of the curriculum and no detriment to the standard of education.”

Cllr Peter Thompson, who represents Moreton Hall on St Edmundsbury Borough Council, said: “If the opening of the new school is indeed delayed when we come to the autumn, I think we can only point to the delays at the planning stage of the project. The building contractors should be commended for their huge efforts in trying to deliver the school in a squeezed timeframe.

“Spurious objections by a small minority in the community, including our county councillor, have now compromised the integrity of the project, but most importantly have compromised the education and life chances of hundreds of local children and impacted hundreds of young families.

“The children affected and their parents have been ill-represented during the process and it should be their wellbeing where we focus our attention to resolve the situation.”

Moreton Hall county councillor Trevor Beckwith said all indications were that the project would be delayed and that is why the contingency plan was put in place.

He said that while it was ‘disappointing’, children were resilient and he was sure it would ‘all work out fine’.

As for his ‘objections’, Cllr Beckwith said he did not object to the school being built and was not alone in raising concerns, with the Moreton Hall Residents’ Association, Rougham Parish Council and Skyward Flight Training among others.

The plans were approved last July after having been rejected the previous month because of worries over a lack of car drop-off points and the school’s proximity to housing.

Cllr Beckwith said: “It was a committee decision and was just to get things straightened out so there were no problems in the future. It certainly wasn’t slowed down five months at development control.

“It was always going to be late. I think most people knew it was going to be late. Scoring cheap, political points out of this isn’t going to move it forward at all.”

Cllr Frank Warby, who also represents Moreton Hall on the borough council, labelled the situation ‘absolutely ridiculous’ and said he felt bad for the parents and students affected.

The new school, which will form part of the Samuel Ward Academy Trust, is now expected to be operational by the start of next year.

Mr Prestoe said: “We have been informed that we will be able to move into the new school building by January 2017 at the latest and we will be arranging site visits for our pupils in the intervening period with the full support of Barnes Construction so that they can gain a unique insight into how a school is constructed.

“We would like to reassure parents, and stress to them, that this will be only a short delay and it is done in the best interests of our students.”