Debate over the future of vacant school site

Wooler First School moved onto the Glendale Middle School, freeing up its former site. 
Picture by Jane Coltman
Wooler First School moved onto the Glendale Middle School, freeing up its former site. Picture by Jane Coltman

Parish councillors heard two options for the future of the vacant Wooler First School site – but are happy to listen to any other proposals.

At Monday night’s meeting of Wooler Parish Council, members heard two possible options for the site, which became free after the first school moved onto a shared site at Glendale Middle School.

One was for a community-led housing scheme and the other was for a crematorium.

Councillors did not make a decision as to their preferred option – and there are clearly vastly different opinions – but would be happy to listen to any other proposals.

And the discussion came just before Northumberland County Council announced that it was going to start marketing the site this week.

The meeting heard first from Frank Mansfield and Patsy Healey, of the Glendale Gateway Trust, who had made initial inquiries to the county council’s chief executive, Steve Mason, about a community asset transfer of the land, which would enable a community-led housing scheme to be developed on the site.

Frank said: “We would want to do it in collaboration with the community.

“Our problem would be, how do we finance it? But as a proposal, the idea of having what is probably the best housing site in the town as a community-led housing scheme is quite exciting.”

Patsy added: “This has been thought about as a housing site for quite some time.

“We have also thought about the need to expand the cemetery, but it’s a very attractive site for housing.

“Where have we got sites for some social, affordable housing for rent?”

She also explained that the county council may well be more open to transferring the land to the community now due to the problems facing the social-housing sector and the fact that government policy is in favour of community-led projects.

Frank added: “The reason they are even considering it is because the Trust has a track record of delivering housing projects on time and budget.”

The other proposal came from Peter Greenwood, who has a small development company which recently completed a housing development in Horncliffe.

He is looking at the site for a crematorium, which would create 10 jobs ‘straight away’ and represent a £1million investment. The aim is to use the existing buildings, rather than demolish the school, and the green areas with trees would be used for a memory garden.

“We predict it would bring £5million into the local economy in the first year,” he said.

His proposals would also allow for some of the site to be used for the expansion of the church cemetery, which is approaching a time when it will be full.

Coun Rosanna Reid questioned if there was a need for a crematorium and Mr Greenwood said that there were 487 cremations last year in Northumberland and the only facility is at Blyth, while many in the north of the county go to Melrose.

Coun Kevan Curry said that he was in favour of the crematorium plans, adding: “I have no problem with the work of the Trust, but it’s all about housing, housing, housing. We need some employment.

“If we get some employment, it’s a starting block for getting some young families back into the town.”

Coun Reid was in favour of housing and felt that nearby residents would object to a crematorium.

The meeting became quite heated when Coun Mark Mather made some very critical comments about the Glendale Gateway Trust, including that some of its dealings are ‘underhand’, which was disputed by town and county councillor, Anthony Murray.