Councillors have today given final approval to a major reshuffle of the Ponteland Partnership but were warned that a judicial review will now be pursued.
This sparked a four-week statutory consultation and this afternoon, members of the decision-making cabinet unanimously approved the changes, which include £57million of investment in new schools and leisure facilities.
It followed a detailed discussion of the issues in this morning’s family and children’s services scrutiny committee.
Addressing the legal threat, deputy chief executive Daljit Lally made four points responding to some of the main areas of challenge.
She also suggested an extra recommendation - that she enter further discussions with Ponteland Community Middle School, which has been granted an academy order and formed no part of the final proposals, to ensure there is continuity for pupils.
Moving the proposals with that addition, Coun Robert Arckless, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “These decisions are never easy.
“I’m genuinely saddened we haven’t been able to reach a consensus for the Ponteland Partnership. I don’t think it has been possible to do that because of decisions that have been made like the academy order for Ponteland Community Middle School - perfectly legal, perfectly acceptable but it has changed what happens.”
Coun Peter Jackson, speaking as local member and unable to vote due to legal advice that he had predetermined the issue, raised a number of concerns, such as transitional risks, rural discrimination, funding and the suitability of the site for the new school and leisure facilities.
“This whole process has felt to the community that it has been predetermined right from the start,” he said. “It has caused real turmoil in schools and between the schools.”
He did welcome the extra recommendation, adding: “We need to build bridges and reestablish the trust of parents and the community.”
The changes will see Belsay, Stamfordham, Darras Hall, Ponteland, Heddon on the Wall St Andrew’s and Whalton CofE First Schools as well as Richard Coates CofE Middle School become primary schools.
Ponteland High School will become an 11-to-18 secondary school, while Ponteland Middle School has been granted an academy order and is no longer part of the proposals.