Council chiefs blast design of new £14m school

An artist's impression of the' design labelled 'boring'. Below: Coun David Owen.
An artist's impression of the' design labelled 'boring'. Below: Coun David Owen.
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A £14m new Blackpool school has been blasted as ‘boring’ and ‘drab’ by unimpressed councillors - who then promptly gave it their backing.

Collegiate High and Highfurlong schools on Blackpool Old Road will be bulldozed; Collegiate will join with Bispham High to form asingle new school, Aspire Academy, which will be ready for its first pupils in September 2015.

Coun David Owen

Coun David Owen

Highfurlong will be completely rebuilt on its existing, adjacent site.

Planners gave the bid the go ahead - but then immediately dismissed the design of the buildings as not being exciting enough.

Committee chairman Coun David Owen said: “It is boring - but there it is.”

He added: “We have tried to make it known to developers we expect a bit of quality and in our policies we have tried to raise the standard of design.”

“But it seems their words of wisdom have fallen on stony ground.”

Coun Andrew Stansfield agreed with Coun Owen, saying: “It is the most drab building I have seen for a long time, but unfortunately it is out of our hands.”

Gary Johnson, head of development management at Blackpool Council, said the design was “fairly simplistic” but added it was a sign of the current economic situation.

Redevelopment of other schools including Highfield School in South Shore, which cost £23m, and the £22m investment in St Mary’s Catholic College on St Walburga’s Road, were carried out with funding from the previous Labour government’s Building Schools for the Future programme.

Mr Johnson said: “We are in a different climate to the Building Schools for the Future programme and it is fair to say there was more money at that time for investment in buildings.

“But we think what is being proposed for this scheme, the orientation and the general layout is acceptable.”

Rosie Sycamore, acting head teacher of Highfurlong School, said: “We are delighted to be getting a new school but it bears no comparison to what was available under Building Schools for the Future.

“We are trying to make the money that is available go as far as possible, but it does not cover new furniture and equipment so we are going to launch a fundraising campaign in the new year for that.

“But it is the children and the learning that goes on inside the school, not just the building, that is important.”

Today, the architects behind the scheme defended it saying the design was “timeless”.

Grant Sellars, of Ryder Architecture said: “Design is clearly subjective and from our stakeholder pre planning activity many families saw it as a simple crisp design adding greater value to what currently exists. It is an intentionally timeless approach that won’t age as quickly as more fashionable, trendy looking buildings.”

John Topping, acting headteacher at Collegiate High, said: “To get a brand new school in today’s climate is a major achievement.

“I have been involved with the design alongside the deputy director of children’s services Carl Baker, working to a fairly tight remit regarding cubic capacity and dividing space into a range of flexible classrooms.

“Common sense says you put the money in bricks and mortar and get the best quality building for what you have.

“At the end of the day there are a lot of schools around the country in disrepair and we are fortunate in today’s climate to be getting a brand new school.”

During construction, Highfurlong pupils will remain on their existing site, but Collegiate students will use classrooms at Bispham High School.

Once complete, the new buildings will rise to three storeys in height, and provide 900 secondary school places and 50 places for students with special needs, with around 145 staff.

It is not the first time the design of new schools in Blackpool has come under fire.

The £7.25m Devonshire Primary School, which rose from the ashes of the previous Victorian school which burnt down in 2003, was later described as a “tinderbox” by the then Conservative group leader Peter Callow due to its exterior wood cladding look.

However, it later won a design award for being “exciting and functional” by the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Nearly 93 per cent of residents who attended a consultation event earlier this year said the new Aspire Academy facilities would boost the local area and nearly 86 per cent called for them to be opened up to the community at evenings and weekends.

Parent Vicky Teece, whose daughter is in Year Seven, said: “I saw the plans when we went on show and I thought they were fine.”

Denise Higgs, whose daughters are in years 10 and seven, added: “It’s not going to be especially modern but as long as it does its job that’s the main thing.”