Sussex school cost soars

A local authority has agreed to find an extra £17m for a school project abandoned by Willmott Dixon.

West Sussex County Council cabinet member for children and young people Jacquie Russell approved the need for the cash to deliver the new secondary school in Burgess Hill.

Willmott Dixon was awarded the deal in February 2023 but it emerged a year later that the contractor was walking away from it after failing to agree a price.

The school was initially expected to cost £57m to deliver but a council report said delays and the latest designs meant an “uplift to the approved budget” was needed to move the project forward.

Russell’s written decision last week means that procurement of a replacement contractor can begin, with a target of appointing a firm this summer and completing the project in 2027.

To be known as Bedelands Academy, the 900-pupil school is planned to serve people living in a Homes England-led development called Burgess Hill Brookleigh.

The council report said: “Secondary school places in the Burgess Hill area are already under pressure, with local secondary schools having agreed to take additional pupils through bulge classes.

“The need for additional pupil places is predicted to grow year on year and an additional 120 places are required from September 2026 onwards, with additional places being required every year thereafter for the foreseeable future.”

In its report, the council stated that the estimated cost of the project is now £74m due to “programme delays, inflation, inclusion of [a] specialist support centre and imported topsoil following [an] agronomic survey”.

The council added: “It is proposed that the additional [money] being requested will be funded from the Schools Basic Need allocation and/or other external funding sources secured through the Department for Education or Homes England in accordance with the Section 106 agreement to cover some of the abnormal costs associated with the site topography and topsoil requirement.”

Russell said: “We remain committed to delivering a fantastic new school in Burgess Hill, providing much-needed school places for the existing local community and future residents that will support people to fulfil their potential.

“Cost increases and challenging logistics are an unfortunate, but often unavoidable, part of large-scale building projects such as this, and our officers are working hard with the academy trust to ensure we are able to provide additional secondary school places in Burgess Hill when they are needed.”

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