Town council negotiates to keep school site open

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Thetford Town Council should keep options for the Charles Burrell School site open by temporarily leasing it from Norfolk County Council, it has been claimed.

At full town council on Tuesday, there were calls for an urgent review of the site’s prospects to be carried out, following wide support for a campaign to retain the facility for community use.

Thetford Academy is expected to move out by August 30, after which the building will be empty.

There are concerns that, left empty for long, it will attract vandals, making it a less attractive option for sport and community groups.

Cllr Terry Jermy suggested that, instead of paying to keep the site closed, the county council could pay the same to the town council to keep it open.

He said: “I would like us to lease the site from Norfolk County Council for six months to allow a business plan and other options to be taken forward.”

The county council says the security cost would be £58,000 per year if the site was kept empty.

Cllr Terence Lamb asked: “How much can we commit ourselves to, however desirable?”

Cllr Derek Mortimer said he felt the town council had been left ‘holding the baby’.

“They (the county council) have left us organising something we don’t have the resources - labour or staffing - or financial resources for,” he said.

“I think Cllr Jermy is right that some monies can be diverted from Norfolk County Council to help us in the interim,” he added.

Concerns were raised about how quickly the school’s swimming pool had been drained and its phone lines cut off.

“What message does that send before negotiations have taken place,” asked Cllr Corinne Fulford.

A spokeswoman for the county council said: “I can confirm that the swimming pool has been drained - this is for safety reasons as it is not being used. We have decommissioned most of the telephone lines, again because they are out of use and it makes sense not to pay for them when they are not being used. We can recommission them as and when this is necessary.”

A town council set up a sub-committee on Tuesday to investigate and present a feasibility study and business plan to full council ‘as a matter of urgency’.

It expressed ‘disappointment’ at the county council not taking action sooner in relation to Charles Burrell but, recognising the ‘considerable demand and need of the local community,’ said it and would like to enter into discussions to keep the site open.

County councillor Steve Morphew, cabinet member for finance, said: “We are very pleased that the town council are being proactive in looking at the future of the site and we look forward to discussing this possibility with them.”