Alnwick Town councillors have condemned plans to demolish a sports centre in the town ‘without any consultation’.
Last week’s council meeting was told that Northumberland County Council (NCC) planned to flatten the site of the Lindisfarne Middle School, including the separate sports hall, in the summer after the school has closed. Pupils will be moving to the two-tier site at Duchess’s Community High School.
Claire Telfer, representing Alnwick Harriers juniors, one of the many sports groups who regularly use the facilities, told the meeting: “We are really dismayed to be facing such an ultimatum. We really feel we have been railroaded by officials with the threat of no facilities at all by the summer.
“We believe this is blatant opportunism by NCC to level the site and make way for further housing.”
The athletics club has launched an online petition to oppose the closure of the sports hall while they have nowhere else to go.
The county council has said that it is trying to find alternative facilities for the sports groups and the Adult Learning Service which use the annexe, also earmarked for demolition.
Councillors joined in the condemnation of the county council’s actions, with Mayor Alan Symmonds saying they were ‘outraged by the act of civic vandalism’ and they demanded a senior planning officer attend the next town council meeting to explain its proposals.
County and town councillor Gordon Castle said plans to flatten the school buildings had not gone before county councillors in this form.
“It has been disappointingly managed and has not emerged as it ought to have done.”
Although the county did not know how it was going to use the site in the future, Coun Castle said it was clear the first priority would be to make it as saleable as possible.
“The officers are not lacking in sympathy but I suspect they are being driven by this priority. I was initially assured that suitable facilities would be found first,” he said.
“This is contrary to the Neighbourhood Plan, which is going to referendum in June – it’s been through the county council for consideration, so how we are at this position, I am rather puzzled.
“We can’t let this happen until we have a clear plan and strategy to accommodate these very important features of Alnwick life.
“I don’t think the county is fully aware of the extent of the usage. We’ve got to call a halt now. The Government’s own planning guidelines do not permit the demolition of sports facilities or disposal of playing fields until something suitable is found – it’s just not acceptable.”
Coun Pat Holt added: “We are constantly being addressed by the powers that be about community health and involvement in sports groups by children, as well as adults. Surely, this is going to confuse the public.”
Town councillors resolved to request that any action be frozen until a senior officer attends their next meeting and alternative facilities found.
Grant Davey, leader of NCC, said after the meeting: “We are disappointed that Alnwick Harriers don’t appear to trust the council, Active Northumberland or the new providers of schools in Alnwick to work together and locate alternative provision for them.
“The petition is a little premature as the plans for the site haven’t been to any council committee or through Alnwick Town Council.
“The petitions committee will hear it when it is submitted but as a listening council, as always, we will attempt to accommodate the Harriers until any alternative provision is located.”