Amble school’s multi million pound investment halted
A multi million pound investment for James Calvert Spence College announced last February will no longer go ahead, after the new administration in Northumberland County Council (NCC) voted to halt the project.
At a meeting in July, county councillors voted to reverse a previous declaration to fund improvements to the Amble school, saying that the plans had never been formally agreed. They promised to work with JCSC in future funding applications.
In February, the Labour – led council announced the £9m project, which would have seen refurbishment of the school on Acklington Road, the closure of the South Avenue site and the construction of one building to house children from both sites.
However the new Conservative – led administration which took over control of NCC in May has now halted the project, bringing criticism and anger from local Labour councillors, who claim schools in other parts of Northumberland are being favoured, to the detriment of poorer areas like Amble.
Review of all schools announced
After the cabinet meeting in July, NCC leader Peter Jackson announced a review of developments for all schools and colleges in the county. He said: “In recent years James Calvert Spence College has received over £1.2 million in repairs, ensuring that its buildings are fit for purpose.
“The new council has given a clear public promise to work with the College to draw up a viable, sustainable scheme to take education in Amble forward and to actively support all applications for future funding for James Calvert Spence.
“As yet I have seen no detailed business case for the £11 million scheme that was previously proposed, and no plan for how it was intended to be paid for, aside from producing more debt for the council. The scheme had never been formally agreed by the previous council and was just one of a number of projects that were considered before May.
“Cabinet members yesterday agreed that proposals for James Calvert Spence will be considered as part of the wider review of school and college developments in Northumberland and I would like to reiterate my wish to work with the school to come up with a detailed and viable package of improvements.
“Our responsibility is to work in partnership with all schools in our county.”
The public just want the truth and not what some feel have been lies.” Read more of your comments:
Disappointment with decision
Councillor Scott Dickinson, former Chair of Governors at JCSC told The Ambler:
“Naturally, I am disappointed, not because of the many years of work put in by me and the school to get to the decisive point of final approval but for the children and families of the local area. This was an opportunity of a lifetime for children in Amble and surrounding areas to get large scale investment in educational buildings and resource to help the school improve standards and environments for learning.
“This was an opportunity for the Conservative administration to let the children of Amble know that they matter just as much as Alnwick, Morpeth, Ponteland and Prudhoe, unfortunately, they chose not to do that. Instead, they chose to vote against the recommendations left by the previous Labour Administration who had committed to the school and the children of the area.
“In planning for this point there has been much work carried out, from Educational Briefs completed by the school in July 2016 to the architects being appointed in October 2016 to create drawings and plans. Many hours spent meeting, discussing and tweaking plans. NCC Schools Capital team meeting with School leaders and others to keep momentum going and get to the ultimate point of approval. A short delay meant the project missed the March meeting and therefore the Councils Mixed Cabinet couldn’t approve during April, so this unfortunately meant the ultimate point came when the Conservatives were in control and they changed the Cabinet to a single party Cabinet which meant the project stood no chance.
“The Labour Group will continue to support the school and challenge this decision, our commitment remains to the school and Town, the former Leader of the Council attended the Cabinet meeting to be present if the Conservatives had any questions but it was quickly voted down.”
Back in February, NCC announced the investment, saying: “Planning is underway now for the £9 million investment by Northumberland County Council at James Calvert Spence College in Amble.
“Meetings have taken place between the school, Northumberland County Council officers and designers, to establish the educational vision for the relocation of the middle school onto the James Calvert Spence College (JCSC) site on Acklington Road. In addition, refurbishment of existing accommodation on the site will be carried out, to form one large college to cater for nine to 13 year olds.
“Initial designs and architectural plans have now been developed and a team of quantity surveyors are currently developing accurate project costs to enable the project to move to the next phase of design. The building work set to begin in the spring term of 2017.
“The refurbishment of the school site will bring with it modernised classrooms, upgraded social areas and a new sixth form suite. The school will also provide more opportunities for the local community to use the new facilities outside of school hours.”
Amble councillors’ comments
New councillor Terry Clark, the local Labour member in Amble was angry at the decision and accused the new administration of ignoring Amble. On Facebook he said: “I see that the Tories are once again ignoring Amble whilst pushing ahead with pouring money into new schools in Ponteland. It’s noticeable the new schools there, sitting in the Tory Leader’s ward, will have many millions poured in to support some of the wealthiest kids in Northumberland, yet some of the County’s poorest young people from Amble are to be denied similar levels of investment, as to the Tories, Amble’s children just don’t matter.”
Councillor Jeff Watson disputed that Amble was missing out. He told The Ambler: “Amble is not missing out to the so called richer parts of the County. What it needs is a proper business case for the development of the school presented to the Cabinet which is made up of councillors from across the county.
“A proper and complete case for JCSC was not presented to the Cabinet for approval by the last administration whereas Ponteland plans were submitted and approved in the last budget by the Labour administration.
“Local Councillors and the current administration are all working to have a proper plan for the development of JCSC but will not announce them to the public until they are firm and agreed properly so that the general public are not misled by promises that are not fulfilled.”
Members of the public gave The Ambler their views, and some voiced scepticism with the original announcement.
“I think the promise of funding for JCSC was only for political gain prior to the elections, I do believe there were discussions, but no concrete decisions made, or even the money available,” said Rebecca Shoemaker, whose daughter goes up to JCSC Acklington Road this September.
“The publicity led the public to believe the promises that were made by politicians and has now caused upset amongst the public now the apparent agreed funding has been halted. The public just want the truth and not what some feel have been lies,” she said.
MB: This is ridiculous so far private houses are ok but nothing else. As a newcomer myself I obviously wanted to move here but do believe that you have to invest in the infrastructure of a place not just keep building houses. It makes no sense to back track. The council need to invest in Amble with school, shops and roads, not pull out of what has already been promised.
JS: Terrible news
BD: Contrast this with the news that James Calvert Spence College in Amble has had its proposed improvements shelved by the council. I would respectfully suggest that the accusation by Conservative members of the former Labour council buying votes has been swiftly turned on its head.
LL: I think it’s about time our elected councillors started telling the truth. Was £9m put aside and agreed upon for the expansion and improvement to JCSC? And if so, can we see the minutes or written statements from the meetings when it was agreed? And where is this money now? Even our esteemed council can’t lose £9m….or can they? It appears honesty is never the best policy within our local councils and all the way to government. Sickens me, these people are supposed to be representing us, the tax paying, voting public.
AD: I hope I live to see the day when I can say that our council is looking out for the best interests of our county as a whole. We had the previous administration needlessly moving the council headquarters from Morpeth (a non labour area) to Ashington (a strong labour area). Now we have the new administration canning proposed improvements to Amble’s school system (a labour area) and approving improvements to Ponteland’s school system (a tory area). My kids could do just as good a job as this lot, in fact they might do better with being highly proficient in school ground politics. Whilst I had my doubts about the proposed project in Amble as it would be woefully inadequate if the planned expansion of housing takes place it would have been nice to have heard some well reasoned narrative to the decision with a view to a new plan being put forward as soon as possible. Ponteland’s current school and leisure facilities are superior to Amble’s so its hard to see the logic in the approval granted other than looking after their own. Hey Ho.
SH: Same council tax as Ponteland should equal same facilities
Aug 2017: This article has been updated to include comments from Cllr Jeff Watson and members of the public