Plans for a new Uckfield College have won the conditional support of town councillors.
Members of the plans committee last night (September 17) welcomed proposals to demolish and replace the main school building (more details below).
However, they are to register their reservations about how car parking is planned to be handled during the construction phase and once the new school is open.
They felt an opportunity to bring relief to the residents of Downsview Crescent and other roads on the Manor Park Estate was being missed.
Paul Sparks, chairman of the Manor Park and Hempstead Fields Residents’ Association, told the committee of people’s worries.
He said there were several issues that could be raised but “for the purposes of this meeting I will restrict it to one issue, which is parking”.
Mr Sparks continued: “We believe this is the most contentious issue and, unless resolved, will be of great detriment to the local residents.”
Downsview Crescent is home to the college, a primary school and a nursery sitting “cheek by jowl along the same stretch of road”.
Roadside parking and traffic congestion are an ongoing and major problem.
“Whilst these problems are at their worst during drop-off and pick-up times, more and more sixth formers are driving to college and parking all day in the nearby roads adding to road safety issues and adding to residents’ frustration.
“It is considered that the decision to retain the same number of existing dedicated parking spaces is short sighted and is another missed opportunity.
“Increasing the number of parking spaces could have offered something really positive to the college’s long-suffering neighbours.
“If further development does occur at some point in the future, will there be space available for additional dedicated parking?
“Parking during the construction work is also a major issue as it is understood that on-site parking will not be available for at least six months during the construction phase,” he said.
“It is essential that suitable alternative provision is made other than displacing these cars on to the local roads.”
He said there was also an issue about constructors’ vehicles coming and going from the site and some strict regulations needed to be in place to ensure it didn’t happen during drop-off and pick-up times.
Cllr Louise Eastwood said: “It would have been nice if the school had taken this on board with a bit more seriousness.
Later, she summed up saying: “This is a good opportunity for our town and future pupils coming in.
“While parking is going to be a big issue, I do think we should be trying to support the school as much as possible because this is a vital build for this town.”
No extra pupil places
Cllr Duncan Bennett said he had asked why the school was being rebuilt without increasing the number of pupils that could be accommodated.
“I was told that Government funding can only be like-for-like. It is crazy, absolutely crazy but that’s how Government funding goes,” he said.
Cllr Bennett said the new-build was future-proofed to allow for expansion in years to come, but “why not do it when you are in that state of upheaval but they physically can’t because the restrictions put on them by the Government”.
“Obviously car parking is the same. They obviously don’t see any increase in the car parking with the new build and that is also a problem which very much needs to be looked at.
“That’s a problem that will only increase because there are no alternative transport initiatives in this area,” he told the meeting.
He called for special provision to be made for car parking during the construction phase, such as finding a site out of town as a temporary car park with a dedicated park and ride to the college throughout the day, supplemented by the school minibus at less busy and later times.
Without such provision it would be a huge issue for Manor Park and the whole of north Uckfield with cars “dumped everywhere”, including the town centre.
He added: “I think we have to be positive about the things that are happening.”
The chairman, Chris Macve, said within the “wodge” of documents that came with the planning application, comments had been made about parking, particularly by students, but it was “not a consideration to be taken into account”.
At this point, Uckfield College’s business manager said not all of the car parking would go. Parking near the leisure centre would remain, as would other spaces.
She said the timings of contractors coming to the site was always the condition of any new school building scheme and that builder’s vehicles should generally be parked within the compound areas.
She was asked if this would impact on the leisure centre parking and replied that the car park in that area was the school’s car park and not the leisure centre’s.
“It has always been the school’s car park,” she said.
Cllr Spike Mayhew said the parking issue was not just about the school day.
When functions were held, the school playground was used for cars and that would go, causing more cars to be parked on the streets.
He said there was a long walk from the new build to the older buildings. “That’s a long walk in bad weather. That’s not good for the children,” he said.
Cllr Donna French said: “It is a missed opportunity for enlarging the school and the parking.”
Details from the planning application
The possible presence of asbestos, WCs in an ‘extremely poor condition’, fractured brickwork and decaying external timber – these are some of the reasons a planning application has been submitted to demolish and replace the main building at Uckfield College.
The cost of addressing the building’s problems is said to be ‘prohibitive’ and so two new buildings, one to the north of the existing footprint, on what is currently a rugby pitch, and one to the south are proposed.
Improved education for pupils
A replacement pitch would be provided between the new buildings.
The final result would be a better education facility for pupils, according to a design and access statement submitted to Wealden Council with the planning application.
It adds: “The two new buildings offer a comprehensive mix of facilities for the community as the school proposes to open its performance spaces, library, dining hall, and classrooms for use outside of school hours for adult learning.
“By creating a school complex with focus on community use, the site will better serve local residents than under its current functional capabilities.”
The statement says the completed scheme will knit together the retained and new elements of the college to create a ‘whole campus feel’, with a series of new pedestrian access routes.
The improved Uckfield College will accommodate 1750 pupils, nearly 50 fewer than the number recorded in the last school census in October 2015 when the pupil role was 1797.
The college was built in 1958, with a large science block extension added in 1996. Further extensions were built in 1999, 2000 and 2001 and mobile classrooms were added over the years.
There are now 14 buildings on the 9.22 hectare site, plus two others not directly related to the school’s operation.
Vehicle and pedestrian access points would not change and the existing car park with 187 spaces, including the leisure centre car park, would be largely unchanged.
A small staff car park to the north of the site – 12 parent and four disabled bays – next to the main entrance would be removed and replaced with a new car park of 26 bays and one delivery bay closer to the new main entrance.
Twenty-five cycle parking stands would be provided, providing parking space for 50 bikes.
An entrance plaza will guide visitors from the new car park and Downsview Crescent pedestrian route to the main entrance. Existing trees would be retained and supplemented to the north to help maintain privacy of neighbouring properties.
Much of the building would be two storeys, but there would be three storeys near the main entrance. A flat roof is proposed to moderate the building’s scale.
“The mass of the new building is successfully balanced with the large external spaces around it, such as the entrance plaza, southern courtyard and extensive playing fields.”
The statement says: “The proposed building footprint of the north building is significantly lower than Downsview Crescent, so the mass of the building is reduced.
“The three and two-storey elements of the building take advantage of this change in topography, reducing its impact.
“From the north the three-storey height appears as two, and the two-storey as one.”
The plan would be to begin work on the new northern building before any demolition is done. Once complete the existing main building could be demolished.
This would then make the southern end of the site available for the second building to be built.
“During this period an element of temporary accommodation will be required to house the school accommodation that will occupy the new southern building (activity studios, changing rooms and music accommodation).
“Once the southern building is complete, the remaining school accommodation housed in the temporary classrooms can decant into the new building.
“This allows the final phase of construction to take place where the lost pitch to the north is replaced on the former school footprint.”
A consultation was held about Uckfield college redevelopment earlier this year. See: Uckfield college redevelopment plans revealed.
Uckfield College – from our files
From our history section