Plans to build a new school in Wootton Hall Park were unanimously approved in principle by councillors at a planning meeting last night (July 3).
Some existing buildings on the police headquarters site on Mereway are to be demolished to make way for the three-storey school, which will accommodate up to 1,200 pupils aged four to 19.
Pupils, parents and the Principal of Wootton Park School crammed into a packed public gallery at The Guildhall, and burst into applause after councillors approved the scheme following a debate lasting more than an hour.
The school has been in temporary buildings on the site since September 2016.
Principal Dan Rosser told the planning committee: “There is a shortage of school places and we believe we can be part of the solution. We are proving popular with the community as well as delivering results. However, in order to to continue to meet needs we must have the right resources and accommodation.”
Year 8 pupil Emily-Jane Hanwell gave her backing on behalf of students, saying: “We need to be educated in an environment which allows us to reach our maximum potential. Without the necessary facilities, we will not be able to achieve the very best we can.”
The 8,932 sqm building would see the primary school located in the east side of the building, while the secondary school would be located in the central part.
The plans also include school playing fields on the northern half of Wootton Hall Park, made up of three football pitches, and two multi-use games areas. These facilities, as well as the school’s main hall, sports pavilion and drama hall will be available for community use outside school time, with Mr Rosser saying talks were underway with the local parish council.
He added: “We are committed to matching borough council prices for these facilities.”
But some members of the public, as well as two borough councillors, spoke out in objection to the scheme.
Local resident Ron Dean said: “I am not objecting to the build; however pedestrian access and egress for residents, their visitors and police seems to have been ignored. There is no footpath on the east-west access road currently.
“Children will push boundaries and this could lead to a serious accident unless councillors are proactive on this matter.”
And Labour borough councillor Brandon Eldred objected on the grounds that local residents would lose public open space.
He said: “The residents have been using the park for community events for ages before the school arrived, and it’s a well-used area.”
But planning officers balanced that harm again the need for further school places. Members of the planning committee eventually followed the advice from officers, with every single member voting to rubber-stamp the proposal.