Future of £9m school proposal is up in the air

An artist's impression of the school plans.
An artist's impression of the school plans.

The future of a £9million investment to help transform schooling in Amble is up in the air, with the county council saying it is ‘under review’.

But the current status of the plan has divided political opinion, with Conservative councillor Jeff Watson saying there has never been an agreement for the money to be spent, but Labour representative Coun Scott Dickinson insists that the cash was approved.

In February, the Gazette reported that £9million had been set aside to overhaul the town’s James Calvert Spence College, by bringing the middle and high schools together onto one site.

The aim was to relocate the South Road-based middle school onto the high school plot on Acklington Road. A major refurbishment of the high school was also planned.

The development was to form one large college to cater for nine to 19-year-olds.

The funding was said to be coming from the county council’s capital investment programme and it was hoped that the new-look facilities would be up and running by the end of 2018/beginning of 2019.

The Gazette was told that the refurbishment of the school site would create modernised classrooms, upgraded social areas and a new Sixth Form suite, as well as providing more opportunities for the local community to use the new facilities outside school hours.

Subject to planning approval, the aim was to start the building work this spring.

In March, Coun Watson told Amble Town Council that while he welcomed the news, he could not see a specific allocation for the school investment in the budget.

Robert Arckless, who was a Labour councillor at the time, said the money was there and the commitment stood.

In May, the Northumberland Conservatives replaced Labour as the county’s ruling administration.

And at last Thursday’s town-council, Coun Watson said: “I have been chasing this and there has never been an agreement to spend £9million, it is under discussion. It has not been agreed by anybody – not by this administration or the previous one. But I will do the best I can to ensure it happens.”

After the meeting, Coun Dickinson, the county council’s former business chairman, disputed this. He said: “The money was agreed in the capital works programme. The county council has said that the scheme is under review – how could it be under review if it was never there in the first place? Why would the architects have been appointed, the drawings been done and letters sent to parents?

“This is the Tories deflecting the real truth that they could be stopping investment in Amble which was promised by the Labour administration.”

A county-council spokesman said: “All capital projects are under review by the council, including this scheme.

“The outcome of this review will be announced in due course.”