Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Property Boom Threat to Schools

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Property Boom Threat to Schools

Article excerpt

Vulnerable village schools with only a handful of pupils in Northumberland could be closed and sold off because of their rocketing property market value, it was claimed last night.

The fears came after Northumberland County Council revealed it was considering selling off up to 50 sites across the county in a bid to generate cash to bolster its crumbling primary schools.

The authority needs to find pounds 21m to meet a growing backlog of repairs, a report to the Executive will hear on Monday.

A wider pounds 260m bid is due to go before ministers later this month as part of the Government's "Building Schools for the Future" drive to refurbish or renew secondary schools over the next 10 to 15 years.

If successful, the county will be able to meet the pounds 32m needed to repair its middle and high schools, as well as build new state-of-the-art learning centres.

But the reorganisation could also see up to a quarter of Northumberland's 210 school sites being sold off.

Last night county education leaders promised any disposal of sites would not be financially driven and pledged that any capital generated would be re-invested to provide first-class facilities for pupils.

But parents and governors fear the lure of high returns could lead to schools in prime locations being cherry-picked, especially those with fewer pupils.

"The schools are in attractive, historic buildings so there's got to be the factor that schools like that are more attractive to developers and would raise more money," said Anne Dale, who is on the board of governors for both 140-pupil Stocksfield and Broomley, and 55-pupil Mickley first schools.

And parent Jim Gibson, who has two children at Norham First School in the Tweed Valley west of Berwick, said many would be concerned.

"It's disturbing to think that some schools could be sold off to a developer, even despite the money being re-invested in other classrooms," he said.

"What we ultimately fear is that rural schools will be banded together centrally, and young children will be forced to travel. At the end of the day we need schools in our community. …

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