Delays to new £30m Lyde Green schools as builder and sponsor are replaced

An impression of the new school

A new £30m secondary and primary school for Lyde Green are going to be delayed after a change of builder and one of the sponsors.

Willmott Dixon are no longer employed to construct the new schools co-located at Honeysuckle Road. Instead they will be built by BAM. Meanwhile the Regional Schools Commissioner, who had appointed South Gloucestershire and Stroud Academy Trust (SGS) to run the new 900-place secondary school as part of the Department for Education’s Free Schools programme, has now switched sponsor.

The Olympus Trust have now been appointed. Castle School Education Trust (CSET) will still run the new primary school as planned. Questions about exactly what has happened with Willmott Dixon and SGS remain unanswered this week.

We asked South Gloucestershire Council, the Regional Schools Commissioner and the trust itself why SGS were no longer involved.  All three gave us a similar response – that SGS were “not able to continue their involvement into the pre-opening phase of the school” – but did not say why. The three parties also said that SGS had “contributed significantly” to getting the project approved and were “delighted” that it was going ahead and would continue to support the project and the community it serves.

The new primary school had been due to open its doors to the first reception classes in September 2022. The estate’s first primary school in nearby Willowherb Road, which was opened by CSET in 2015, is currently planning building work to able to provide room for more pupils.

The new secondary school building had been due to welcome its Year 7 pupils in September 2023 and the council has committed to ensuring that pupils entering Year 7 in September 2022 will be accommodated as planned. It has not said where, although there has been speculation it could be at Winterbourne Academy.

The council did not respond to our questions about whether there had been a financial dispute with Willmott Dixon, how long the anticipated delay to completion of the new schools would be and whether the cost of the project is likely to rise.

In a statement the council said: “We are currently working closely with Olympus, CSET and BAM to finalise plans for the new school provision, including designs and final completion dates for new buildings.

“However, we remain committed to ensuring that pupils entering Year 7 in September 2022 will be accommodated. Places will be available through the normal admissions process from September 2021 and there will also be information events for families to hear about plans, with details to be shared as soon as they are available.

“Both contractors are on an approved panel of builders and we have chosen to progress this work with BAM, while we continue to work with Wilmott Dixon on other projects, including Elm Park school, for example. “As the plans are being finalised we are committed to providing value for money as well as excellent school facilities for pupils in Lyde Green.”

MPs Luke Hall, left, & Chris Skidmore on the site

This week Willmott Dixon, who had been due to build the schools to low-carbon Passivhaus standards, told us they were no longer proceeding on Lyde Green for South Gloucestershire Council: “After exhausting all options to progress the scheme, by mutual agreement it was agreed that Willmott Dixon would conclude its preconstruction contract with the council.”

Under SGS the new secondary school was going to have a focus on engineering and digital technology. However, the Olympus Trust have confirmed it will be a mainstream secondary school without specialism.

And Olympus Trust’s CEO Dave Baker said on social media:  “Pleased to share that @olympustrust will be sponsor for the new Lyde Green secondary school which is due to open for its first cohort in September 2022, Further details to follow in due course, including about admissions arrangements.”

This week Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore and neighbouring MP Luke Hall, who have long campaigned for the provision of the new secondary school, both said that they would be working closely together and with the council and Department for Education to ensure it can open as soon as possible.

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