‘It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Sidmouth’: Primary school nets go-ahead for major expansion

‘Once in a lifetime’ expansion plans for Sidmouth Primary School – featuring new buildings and games areas – have been given the go-ahead. 

The scheme – which boasts a hall, two-storey block, library and two 3G multi-use play surfaces – won the unanimous backing of East Devon councillors.

It means one of the school’s three sites shut.

The project will see a ‘consolidation’ of operations at the Manstone Avenue and Woolbrook Road sites – with Vicarage Road becoming ‘surplus to requirements’.

Applicant the First Federation Trust says the bid will create capacity for 60 extra pupils and a further 26 nursery places.

The changes will be paid for by the Department for Education.

Members of East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Planning Committee backed the proposals and hailed them as a ‘win-win for everyone’ at a meting on Wednesday, September 1.

Sidmouth: Artist's impressions of plans for the expansion of Sidmouth Primary School. Images from the planning application - NPS Group/Devon County Council

Artist’s impressions of plans for the expansion of Sidmouth Primary School. Images from the planning application – NPS Group/Devon County Council

Changes at Manstone Avenue will see existing blocks to the west of its play area demolished to make way for a new hall, staffroom, ancillary accommodation and resource area.

And a two-storey block containing a nursery, administration area and three classrooms will be built to the south of play plot.

A new library will be constructed to the east of the play area.

The site’s existing building will also be refurbished to create an extra classroom.

A new multi-use game area with 3G surface is planned for the south of the proposed new classroom block at Manstone Avenue.

At Woolbrook Road, the existing grass play area will be replaced with a new multi-use games zone with 3G surface.

Sidmouth: Artist's impressions of plans for the expansion of Sidmouth Primary School. Images from the planning application - NPS Group/Devon County Council

Artist’s impressions of plans for the expansion of Sidmouth Primary School. Images from the planning application – NPS Group/Devon County Council

Sidmouth ward member Councillor Marianne Rixson told the meeting it was sad that the Vicarage Road site would close but added: “We can’t have a town the size of Sidmouth without adequate provision for primary school children.”

Cllr Steve Gazzard added: “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Sidmouth.”

Cllt Bruce De Saram described the plans as ‘a win-win for everyone’.

Some parents have raised concerns about the new all-weather pitch which will replace the grass field at Manstone Avenue.

Sidmouth Town ward member Cllr Denise Bickley said she understood the worries but added: “The grass field cannot be used most of the year because it’s a mudbath.”

Cllr Bickley, who works in the school office at Woolbrook Road, said maintaining the different locations has led to a tripling up of many logistical and maintenance costs.

She added this was also putting a strain on senior leadership which is spread too thinly across the three areas.

Cllr Bickley said the current set-up also affects children’s ability to socialise – with pupils in the same year groups now split across different locations.

The planning permission is, in theory, only ‘consultative’ because the committee, like all other East Devon Council meetings at the moment, was held online because of Covid concerns.

As the law allowing councils to meet virtually ended in May and no official decisions can be made virtually.

But this is procedural and the outcome is assured.

Once an ‘indicative’ decision is made by the council on Zoom, it is then passed to the chief executive or senior officers who have the power to rubber-stamp decisions.

Major expansion plan for Sidmouth Primary School on verge of go-ahead