A NEW academy that sparked battles in its community officially opened yesterday after the merger of two existing schools.
Consett Academy opened on split sites at Moorside and Blackfyne after the merger of two of the town’s schools.
Durham County Council and academy sponsors New College Durham propose that the new academy will continue to operate on both sites until a new campus is complete in 2014 on a site at Belle Vue where the soon-to-be demolished Consett Civic Centre now stands.
Opponents of the plan to site the academy at Belle Vue are continuing to fight in court. One prominent opponent, the former leader of Derwentside District Council Alex Watson, revealed yesterday that he had written to Education Secretary Michael Gove urging him to intervene over the location of the new campus.
Mr Watson said a legal challenge by local residents under the banner of the Consett Green Spaces group, who have successfully sought a judicial review in a bid to have the proposed site of the new campus designated a village green, could still scupper the new campus.
He said: “The county council’s chosen location, against huge public opinion, is a greenfield site.
“The choice of site has received unprecedented opposition, and there is considerable progress being made for part of the site to be designated village green status.
“This particular case has been compared with the Coatham Common, Redcar. The case received national coverage when the Friends of Coatham Common were victorious in their six-year battle against a proposed £95m leisure and housing scheme.
“The Supreme Court allowed the Friends’ appeal over registering part of the development site as a village green.”
Mr Watson’s old council had favoured the site of the former steelworks at Berry Edge, Consett, for the new academy.
But Claire Vasey, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for children and young people’s services, insisted the new campus would be built at Belle Vue, even though a planning application has yet to be submitted.
She said: “The county council and lead sponsor, New College, Durham, remain focused on completing the new academy building as early as possible to bring forward the further educational benefits this will offer.
“We are also delighted that the county council has been able to initiate and take forward a project that will bring investment into the town.
“Early design work has commenced to ensure that the full planning application can be submitted soon after the conclusion of the judicial review. It is hoped that this will allow work to start on site without further delays.”
New College Durham stepped in as lead sponsor of the academy after Durham University withdrew its pledge of sponsorship last year.
But the project has divided opinions. Apart from the legal challenge over the location of the campus, Government cuts slashed the budget for the planned new building by around £10m.