£55b schools revamp could be back on track

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EDUCATION chiefs are considering their next move after councils won a legal battle over the Government’s axing of a multimillion-pound school revamp scheme.

A High Court judgement declared Education Secretary Michael Gove acted “unlawfully” when he cancelled the £55billion Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

The initiative, introduced by Labour, would have seen schools across Wearside and County Durham rebuilt or remodelled.

Mr Gove has been told be must reconsider his decision after it was ruled in five of the six cases to be a failure “so unfair as to amount to an abuse of power”.

The ruling has been welcomed by schools, although many are cautious as to whether scrapped projects will ever get back on track.

Among those schools affected in Sunderland were Barbara Priestman, Monkwearmouth, Southmoor, St Anthony’s, St Aidan’s, Thornhill, Venerable Bede and a pupil referral unit.

In Durham, the creation of Durham City Academy has been stopped, along with improvements to Framwellgate and Trinity schools.

In Easington, work has gone ahead on Dene Community College, Easington Community College and St Bede’s, with plans for Glendene likely to be approved by Durham County Council today.

However, the £16million proposals for Seaham School of Technology, which would see it rebuilt on the former Seaham Colliery site, have been cancelled.

The only North East authorities which were not affected were Newcastle and South Tyneside as they had secured funding earlier.

Easington MP Grahame Morris believes the council will be considering the implications of the High Court decision.

He said: “It is typical of Michael Gove and the Tory-led Government’s short-sighted approach to priorities closing Buildings Schools for the Future without consultation or cost benefit analysis.

“Seaham School is in a terrible physical condition. I sincerely hope he will acknowledge his mistake and we can get on and build a much-needed new Seaham School as planned without further delay.

“I am consulting with Durham County Council, which is in discussion with lawyers over the implications of the court’s decision and whether we are in a position to process a legal challenge.”

The councils who took the case to the High Court were Waltham Forest, Luton, Nottingham, Sandwell, Kent and Newham, with each accusing Mr Gove of being too hasty to wield the axe over the project.

More than 700 building projects were cancelled, causing uproar from councils, unions and the Labour Party, which launched BSF when it was in power.

When handing down his judgement Mr Justice Holman said: “However pressing the economic problems, there was no overriding public interest which precluded consultation or justifies the lack of any consultation.”

It was found unlawful because it was not in line with the Sex Discrimination Act, Race Relations Act and Disability Discrimination Act, although rejected charges Mr Gove acted irrationally.

The Department for Education has said the authorities involved had no expectation of being allowed to proceed with their projects.