THE opening of a new primary school in Newbury has been delayed by a year owing to rising building costs.
The 210-place Highwood Copse Primary School was due to open in September 2018, in order to cope with the demand for places.
West Berkshire Council approved the plans in June, after hearing that local schools were at capacity, with no room for expansion.
However, in a bombshell announcement on Monday, the council said that the opening would be postponed until September 2019 following “high increases” in build costs from its appointed contractor Kier.
“Potential legal delays” were also cited as another reason, although the council has not revealed any more details.
The council said that postponing the project would allow extra time to complete the legal arrangements.
West Berkshire Council executive member for education Lynne Doherty (Con, Northcroft) said: “While this may come as a disappointment to some, we want to ensure that the school is ready and able to provide the very best education opportunities for our children when they start their educational journey at Highwood Copse.
“We also need to balance this with our duty to spend public money wisely and are taking professional advice to re-tender the contract to deliver the school at a cost closer to the original estimate.”
However, the setback was branded “very disappointing” by the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat oppostion, Alan Macro (Theale).
Mr Macro said: “I can understand a term, but a whole year is beyond the pale really.
“The council knows what’s happening to building costs so they should have been able to predict that one as well.
“They certainly should have sorted the legal issues out.
“The council should have been getting all that in place while they were getting an agreement on the access, then the delay wouldn’t have been so bad.”
The council said that the new school was needed as 495 primary school places had been allocated this year, against a capacity of 489.
On the impact to pupil numbers and capacity, Mrs Doherty said: “We’re able to accommodate the predicted pupil numbers for September 2018 and therefore have time to go through the re-tendering process.
“In doing this, we will continue to work with Newbury College to deliver the school by September 2019 while ensuring the very best value for money for our residents.”
The school, to be built within the grounds of Newbury College, has the potential to expand to take 420 pupils.
The council had aimed to open it next September, with an intake of 30 foundation pupils and increasing to 30 pupils year-on-year until the school reaches capacity.
The council has also appointed Kier to build a new primary school in Theale.
The plans were approved in July last year but work is yet to start as Theale Parish Council has not released the land.
“The costs have gone up [for Highwood] which doesn’t bode well for the school in Theale,” Mr Macro said.
“If the costs has gone up for Highwood then they have probably gone up for Theale too.”
Referring to delays to Highwood Copse, a council spokeswoman, Peta Stoddart-Crompton, said: “Occasionally costs can fluctuate substantially with projects of this size.
“Fluctuation can be caused by many factors from the current economic environment and costs of materials to availability of trade’s people.
“We have worked successfully with Kier on a number of projects but on this occasion, we have been advised to re-tender in order to get the best possible price.”