Contentious plans to bus hundreds of London teenagers to a boarding school in a mock Tudor mansion in the South Downs have hit yet another obstacle.
Despite public support from education secretary Michael Gove, the Durand Academy’s planning application to create the school in Stedham, West Sussex has been rejected by the South Downs National Park Authority.
The authority’s planning committee threw out Durand’s application, arguing that its plans were too large and “inappropriate” for the site.
This is just the latest controversy to strike the project; this summer, TES revealed that the plans were being scaled down from 575 places to just 375.
In July the National Audit Office criticised the Department for Education’s decision to hand over £17 million for the project without “sufficient appreciation of the scale of financial and operating risk association with the project”.
Previously, the scheme had been described by residents as a “white elephant in a national park” – and one councillor courted controversy by claiming that “bringing Brixton to the countryside” would result in a “sexual volcano”. He has since quit his position.
In a terse statement released after the planning committee's meeting, Sir Greg Martin, Durand Academy’s executive head, blasted the authority’s “misplaced” decision and insisted that the project would still go ahead.
“Despite 28 months of close working with the South Downs National Parks Authority to reflect everything they wanted to see in this application, officers rejected our plans at the last minute and members followed their lead,” he said.
“[The] decision is deeply disappointing and misplaced. It remains our firm intention to proceed with the project and we are considering all the options available to us.
“Following some 20 meetings with officers, seven public meetings and an investment of nearly £300,000 refining our designs, every concern was addressed about the plans… Over 1,000 people signed a petition in favour of our plans and the authority received 160 public representations in support of the project.
“Members of the planning committee had every reason to support this ground-breaking project, which will deliver both education and conservation in the heart of the national park.
“We have no doubt that this project will go ahead and we have contingencies in place to manage the delay.”