New leisure centre for Ashington: £18m New high school for Alnwick: Not a penny

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Staff, students, councillors and campaigners have been pushing for Alnwick’s Duchess’s Community High School to be rebuilt as a matter of urgency for a number of years.

But despite glimmers of hope that money would be found as talks progress with Government ministers, the project has not been included in Northumberland County Council’s budget for 2011/12.

But a three-year commitment to a create new leisure centre in Ashington has struck a nerve with councillors who have been fighting for the new school.

Alnwick town and county councillor Gordon Castle said the high school rebuild should be the top priority and some form of costing should have been included in this year’s budget to spur the Government into action. A succession of ministers have visited the school over the last year and all agree that a rebuild is essential.

“I am prepared to concede that the administration wants a new school to be built but my problem is that if they don’t put their money where their mouth is, it doesn’t look as if they are serious,” said Coun Castle.

“Absolutely nothing has been included to commit to a new high school in Alnwick. I know it is not simple but if you asked me what the priorities were, although I don’t begrudge it, I certainly wouldn’t put a new leisure centre before a new high school.

“I don’t know where they found £18million.

“But I certainly won’t be letting this rest. This is the number one priority for Alnwick and the number one priority for me.”

Conservative spokeswoman Anne-Marie Trevelyan has been campaigning for a new school in Alnwick.

She said: “I was deeply saddened to hear that yet again for another year the Liberals have talked about supporting the high school development but have failed to follow through with any long-term commitment towards it. All partners in it are keen to progress the project but without the council providing real financial support the Government is not going to take us seriously.”

“They are not being asked to find millions of pounds this year but to commit to a capital expenditure. It shows a lack of commitment by the Lib Dems to north Northumberland while a capital commitment is made to the south east.

“The Conservative councillors have tried their hardest but it clearly continues to be a battle-ground between the south east and north Northumberland.”

Shilbottle councillor Trevor Thorne added: “Like Coun Castle, I am very supportive of building a new high school. The current school is in desperate need of repair and it is unsafe.

“It is on two sites there are too many mobile classrooms. I will do all I can to make sure that we try to find the cash to build a new high school for Alnwick.”

But the administration has defended its decision not to put any long term costing into this year’s budget.

Lesbury councillor and deputy leader of the county council, Roger Styring said: “The story behind the high school is that we haven’t designed the project yet.

“It will take three years to design and we have got to have consultation that is why there is no financial provision in the plan.

“We are well aware that this is the top priority high school rebuild in the county. We are still pressing Michael Gove and trying to come up with a suitable financial package to help pave the way forward for a rebuild opportunity.”

Berwick Lib Dem MP Sir Alan Beith said: “With discussions still taking place about how the new school can be funded involving both the Duke’s Estate and the Government I would not expect the County Council to set a figure at this stage for the amount that will need to be raised by them.“The Council have given clear assurances that they are ready to raise the funds necessary to fund an appropriate share of the cost.

“I am continuing to work with all those involved to achieve progress and I do not think that it would help to treat this matter as a party political issue.”