Fears raised over plans for new primary school in Woolpit

Land eyed for 300 homes in Woolpit. Picture: MID SUFFOLK DISTRICT COUNCIL/GOOGLE MAPS


A new 420-place primary school could be on the cards in Woolpit after a development of 300 homes was approved – but fears have been raised that it will be in the wrong place.

Councillor John Field was among those on the planning committee to raise concerns about the school.

Councillor John Field was among those on the planning committee to raise concerns about the school. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Hopkins Homes' plan for 300 homes between the A14 and The Street in Woolpit were approved by Mid Suffolk District Council's planning referrals committee last week, and also included a 2.2 hectare land allocation for a new school.

The plans also included a 2.2hectare land allocation for a new 420-place primary school and pre-school for 90 children, with Hopkins Homes saying the land and location had been identified by the local education authority.

But fears were raised it was in the wrong place when it emerged many of the children would be coming from Elmswell - despite the possibility of expansions at both the existing Woolpit and Elmswell primary schools.

Simon Bryan, development director at Hopkins Homes, said: "We worked carefully with local and regional stakeholders to ensure our plans met the requirements of the emerging local plan before submitting our proposals.

"The land and location for this primary school has been clearly identified by the local education authority and will continue to be assessed based on the need for more school places in the area by the council."

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However planning committee member John Field said: "I certainly find there are issues here, like the placing of the school, which one would really question. Determining that children from one village which already has a school should commute to a second village which already has a school, and you wish to build a third one, does seem to me a somewhat strange process."

The cost of an expansion at Woolpit could be more than £4million, according to Neil McManus, the county's development contributions manager: "The broad strategy for Elmswell and Woolpit is to expand Elmswell Primary School from 315 places to 420 places, so we can do that on the existing site. For Woolpit, the current school has actually quite a bit of surplus spaces at the moment, so clearly we would look to fill that up with any new children from the development.

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"The option then may be that it will be far more sensible to deliver a new school that would then deal with pupils from Woolpit, but could also deal with some children from Elmswell.

"In broad terms, to have two new small schools - one in Elmswell and one in Woolpit - we just don't feel would be viable."

The council said that 56 children at Woolpit Primary - around a third of the school - were out of catchment, and of those there were 23 from Elmswell. Around a fifth of Elmswell's students were out of catchment (52 children) of which 17 were from Woolpit.

The plans approved on Friday were outline only, meaning the developers must come back with detailed designs for final sign-off.

Hopkins Homes said the site would address a "critical shortage of housing regionally and nationally" and that it is contributing £1.2million towards education and travel improvements in the area.

Mr Bryan added: "While we understand that there will always be local objections to the principle of development, we are pleased that all statutory bodies were in favour of our proposals and that the council's planning officers recommended our plans for approval due to the significant benefits this development will bring to the community."

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