New opening date given for Lyde Green secondary school, as government threatens to pull funding

SOUTH Gloucestershire Council has announced the date it expects Lyde Green’s two new schools to open – as the government threatens to scrap funding for the project.

The new 900-place Lyde Green Secondary School was originally supposed to open last year, after being given approval by the Department for Education in early 2021.

But a series of delays since then has seen the opening date repeatedly put back.

Now the council has issued an update which says it expects work to start in the first half of next year – almost three years later than originally planned.

Building the secondary school and a 420-place primary school next door in Willowherb Road is expected to take two years, and the council says it now expects them to be ready in time to open in September 2026 – almost three years from now, and four years after the original opening date.

It means the first children to attend the secondary school will be those currently in Year 4 of primary school.

In a letter obtained by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the Department for Education (DfE) has demanded to see “significant progress with this project so that discussions about cancellation are not required”.

Letter warns against ‘any further delays’

The letter, sent in September by DfE South West deputy director Lucy Livings to the council’s director of children’s services, Chris Sivers, agreed to a deferral to 2026 but warned that major projects including the Free School programme, which provides the funding, were “routinely considered for cancellation if they are indefinitely postponed – as there may be other, more pressing uses for the funding across the school capital estate”.

She wrote: “South Gloucestershire Council should expect any further delays to trigger a formal review of the need for the school and how realistic the delivery of this project is in relation to the need for such a provision.

“We would reiterate that we do want to open this school, therefore the Department for Education will continue to provide the ongoing support it has done over the past two years but would like to see some significant progress with this project so that discussions about cancellation are not required.”

Work now due to start next year

A council spokesperson said the authority was continuing to work in partnership with the DfE, Castle School Education Trust, which would run the primary school, and Olympus Academy Trust, which would run the secondary.

The spokesperson said: “We have now finalised the designs and layouts of buildings that are designed to provide outstanding environmental performance and an excellent learning environment.

“A planning application was submitted in August for minor amendments to the previously approved planning permission, to still achieve the building performance and the teaching and learning needs for the new schools.

“We anticipate this will be determined by November.

“More than £41 million has been committed to date for the new school buildings, including agreement from DfE to invest more than £30m in addition to investment of more than £11m of council funding.

“Costs have risen significantly in the construction industry, as well as in the overall economy, which has impacted this project.

“We are now finalising the construction costs aligned to the revised designs and we are working to agree the funding and contractual requirements to deliver the new schools.

“We intend to build the new schools at the same time, to enable both the new primary school and new secondary school to be completed and then opened at the same time.

“Subject to agreeing the contracts, we expect that building works will begin in the first half of 2024 and that the construction of the new schools will then take approximately two years.

“This means an expected completion date in mid-2026, ready for opening to pupils for the start of the new term in September 2026.”

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service

Picture: How South Gloucestershire Council says the secondary school’s entrance will look, in its latest plans