Whitcliffe school rebuild on cards and sports centre to close after ‘messy’ meeting

Whitcliffe Mount School. (D513A402)
Whitcliffe Mount School. (D513A402)

A “once in a generation opportunity” to rebuild an ageing school finally got the green light – to the disappointment of many sports enthusiasts.

The decision to knock down Whitcliffe Mount School and re-develop it next year was taken yesterday (Thursday) during a “messy” special Cabinet meeting which lasted nearly four hours.

Users of the attached sports centre are incensed that they will be without a dedicated facility. They made heartfelt pleas for councillors to reconsider a decision made in private two years ago to shut the centre.

The Local Government Ombudsman said the plans had to be re-considered because there was no public consultation of the service closure.

But the Cabinet voted in favour of the Turnsteads Avenue school’s re-development – which means multi-million funding towards it is no longer in jeopardy.

To save the centre and delay the school’s plans could also have cost the council £12m, it is understood.

It was decided by Cabinet in December 2013 that the facility should close as part of a cash bid with the Education Funding Agency towards the £15m rebuild of the school.

A statement from Whitcliffe Mount School following the meeting reads: “It is fantastic news for the community as a whole. There is no doubt that it is badly needed and that this is a once in a generation opportunity with funding being available from central government.

“A new building, designed with innovative teaching and learning practices in mind, will ensure a generation of students, no matter what their particular talents and interests, have the opportunity to benefit from excellent educational facilities.

“It is also true that other members of the community will be understandably upset by this decision and the school has every sympathy with all those who may be affected.

“Unfortunately it is not in the schools power to solve all the issues which community groups now face but we are committed to doing what we can by ensuring all our new facilities are made available for community use as much as possible.

In 2011 Whitcliffe Mount was deemed one of the 261 worst school buildings in the country.

Current council documents detail how it is outdated and was not designed with the needs of disabled people in mind.

Onee meeting attendee described is as “messy”, with heated views thrown towards the Cabinet councillors.

A spokesman for the Save Whitcliffe Mount Sports Centre campaign added: “My take on last night was that it was a box-ticking exercise. There were many questions asked and very few answered.

“There was a significant number who left before the end disgusted by what was going on.”

Jo Cox is now calling for all current and past users of the centre to get in touch after a decision was taken last night to close the sports centre.

The MP for Batley & Spen is keen to make sure Kirklees Council and Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL) help the groups find suitable accommodation.

Mrs Cox said: “I would never tell campaigners to give up their fight to keep the centre open but the sad fact is that Kirklees Cabinet have now made their decision. It really is a sad day for users of the centre and I remain critical of some of the ways in which the decision was made.

“Whitcliffe Mount did, and still does, a lot right. It was a big, positive part of a number of peoples lives. Local people have every right to protest and, importantly, to demand good sports facilities in Spen.”