A POLITICAL row could see one of the North East’s most ambitious school plans delayed.
North Tyneside’s Labour group have been accused of pulling the brake on Conservative mayor Linda Arkley’s hopes of funding a multi-million pound school rebuild.
Mrs Arkley had been working with St Stephen’s Roman Catholic and St Bartholomew’s Church of England primary schools in Longbenton to support their bid to create a state-of-the-art joint schools complex.
The proposal would see a £6.45m Longbenton Voluntary Aided Schools campus created on the former Goathland Primary School site which would accommodate two new schools – St Stephen’s RC Primary and St Bartholomew’s CoE Primary.
But those plans have been delayed following debt concerns by the Labour councillors who make up the majority on the council, despite elected mayor Mrs Arkley having overall control.
A £3m loan was earmarked for the site, but that cash is on hold, and will be for several months. Mrs Arkley said she was “disgusted” at the Labour group’s decision to “make a cheap political point”.
She added: “It’s not bad debt, it’s a loan to pay for the children’s education and they need to remember that.
“We are in a situation now where if they do not rethink this, we might miss the chance of opening in September 2014. All this for the sake of trying to stop me from getting my proposals through.”
Last night, in a robust defence of Labour’s position, group leader Jim Allan said: “This is about debt not education.”
He added: “We have asked for more information about how this will be funded. We have said this throughout and on other projects such as the North Shields library.
"They are proposing to borrow outside of their own limits and they are going to add to further debt in the hope that land sales will offset it. The way things are at the moment land sales could achieve nothing close to what is needed.
“We need to know all these ‘what if’ type threats. We have £30m of borrowing agreed over 10 years. We are saying keep it within this, use that and then we don’t have an extra worry and that is sensible. She can’t just go on spending.
“We have supported this since John Harrison was in power, but we have to do it in a way which does not push up debt, or else we will be faced with another ‘road to nowhere’ like what we got at Spanish City.”
Although supportive of the project in principle, the council voted in favour of deferring the decision pending further clarity on the funding.
It is hoped that the matter, when put in front of the council will be approved to avoid the project being delayed beyond September 2014.