Update on rebuilding schools in Northumberland

Project timescales have slipped on three Northumberland school rebuilds, although the funding has been increased.

By Ben O'Connell
Monday, 1st February 2021, 4:09 pm
James Calvert Spence College building in Acklington Road, Amble.
James Calvert Spence College building in Acklington Road, Amble.

A new £43million schools and leisure campus in Ponteland has recently opened, while work is underway on a £36million new build to feature two schools on the current Queen Elizabeth High School site in Hexham. A new £6million Morpeth First School opened in 2019.

But the pledges on new or rebuilt schools did not stop there, with the Conservative administration at Northumberland County Council also promising schemes in Amble, Berwick and Seaton Delaval in recent years.

A £9million proposal to overhaul James Calvert Spence College (JCSC) in Amble, including relocating the South Road site onto the main Acklington Road campus, was first announced in February 2017.

However, this was dropped after the Tories took control at County Hall following the elections in May that year, with then leader Peter Jackson saying that Labour's plans had never been formally agreed by the council and that no business case had been prepared.

Come the sign-off of the 2019-20 budget in February 2019, a ‘multimillion-pound’ investment for JCSC was announced, with £16million earmarked a year later in the 2020-2023 capital spending programme, all to be spent in the 2021-22 financial year.

The details of the updated 2021-24 spending plan have just been unveiled ahead of next year's budget being discussed by both the corporate services committee and cabinet next week (February 8 and 9), ahead of seeking approval at the full council meeting on Wednesday, February 24.

The papers show that the total allocation for the JCSC project has been increased to £20.3million, but only £250,000 for 2021-22, with the remainder split over the following two years - £7.3million in 2022-23 and £12.7million in 2023-24.

In February 2019 when the JCSC pledge was made, the Conservatives also promised £15million for a new high school in Berwick, which has also seen funding pushed back, but also an increase to £19.8million.

Last year's budget set out expenditure of £250,000 in 2020-21, £6.4million for the coming financial year and £8.4million in 2022-23, 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 final proposal as part of the February 2019 budget process was £21million for new 'state-of-the-art' school buildings in Seaton Delaval for the Seaton Valley Federation.

Last year's capital programme indicated that £4.5million would be spent this year - which has not happened as the outline business case is still awaiting approval - followed by £16.9million in 2021-22.

The latest programme has upped the total investment to £31.6million, but just £230,000 for the coming year, followed by £15.9million and £15.5million in 2022-23 and 2023-24 respectively.

However, the outcome of the county council elections - assuming they go ahead as planned in May this year, which is still not a certainty given the ongoing pandemic - could yet mean further changes to all three projects.

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