£19.8m earmarked for new Northumberland school but local councillor calls plan 'unacceptable'
Nearly £20million council funding has been earmarked for a new high school in Berwick – but there will be a two year wait before work begins.
Northumberland County Council has allocated £19.8million in its draft budget and medium term financial plan towards a new school building in Berwick.
Last year's budget set out expenditure of £15million over three years but the latest programme has shifted the initial £6.4million all the way into 2023-2024, with no spending at all earmarked for 2021-22 or 2022-23.
The delay has infuriated Cllr Georgina Hill who had called on the authority to give an upfront commitment of £40million towards the new schools programme.
“This is absolutely unacceptable,” said the Independent member for Berwick East. “Children and young people in the Berwick area deserve first class education facilities of the type being delivered in Hexham and Ponteland, where £40million or more is being invested.
"The fact that the project is delayed with the budget also being cut, when the original £15 million earmarked was meant to be a starting point, means that this Conservative administration are planning to fail another generation of children in Berwick.”
By contrast, the funding was welcomed by Berwick’s two Tory councillors.
Cllr Catherine Seymour, Berwick North, said: “We want to build the best school to house the finest education that Berwick's youth deserve. Schools are a big priority throughout the county and top marks for securing this extra funding, at this time, for Berwick that deserves an A+.”
Cllr Gregah Roughead, Berwick West with Ord, added: "I left the Academy in 2013 and as a former pupil I really welcome this initial commitment from the county council.
"Berwick has sorely needed investment for a new high school for decades so I very much look forward to this project proceeding and seeing exact detail on any further proposals which could bring additional funding to the site.
"A new school would be a huge boom not just for our children and future generations but for the whole town and wider Berwick area.”
Cllr Guy Renner-Thompson, cabinet member for children’s services, pointed out that the proposed budget represented an increase in funding from £15million to £19.8million – with the potential for more to come.
He explained: "There is £19.8million in the budget for 'Berwick Schools Partnership' with work beginning 2023/24, which allows two years for the consultation with schools and wider community, then the formal tendering process for building works.
"The caveat of that is until the formal consultation is completed the education team don't know exactly what they're budgeting to build. So, for example, if the community want a campus style with different schools on one site, the costs and corresponding budget will naturally increase.
"In Hexham we have built a middle and high on the same site at cost of £38million.
“I went to an underfunded, falling down state school so I know the effect it can have on children. A new school at Berwick is a top priority for myself and this administration.”