SOUTH Tyneside Council has been accused of ‘money-grabbing’ after it emerged a former special school site is about to be sold off to bolster its coffers.
Oakleigh Gardens School in Cleadon closed in July last year as part of a shake-up of special educational needs in the borough.
Its demise came despite a hard-fought battle by campaigners to keep it open.
At the time, the indication was the land would be used for ‘community recreational use’.
But now it has emerged the site is to be sold off to the Gentoo housing group to build 16 detached homes.
The move has enraged – but not surprised – campaigners who fought to save the school.
One of them, Lilian Milne, of Elmsleigh Gardens, Cleadon, believes it was always the council’s intention to sell off the lucrative land.
She said: “It was a school from 1908 and should have remained so. I believe it was all about money. The residents of Cleadon and parents of the school were told by the council in 2010 that there were no plans to sell the land at Oakleigh Gardens for housing.
“They said the council’s preferred option for the land would be to retain it for community recreational use.
“What a load of poppycock! It was always on the agenda for it to be sold for housing.
“What happened to the so-called Green Belt they constantly quoted as a showstopper for a special needs school to be built on the very same land? Was it always about money? Of course it was. It must have been a very hard decision for the council to make – special needs or sell the land? I don’t think so.”
A spokesperson for South Tyneside Council said: “Oakleigh Gardens School closed last summer as part of a £200m investment in creating world-class schools in South Tyneside.
“Pupils have since transferred to Bamburgh and Keelman’s Way schools, where they can enjoy vastly improved facilities as a result of our investment.
“Both schools offer state-of-the-art services, including specialist therapy and sensory facilities.
“A planning application for 16 new homes on the site has been submitted, and it has been publicised by letters to neighbours.
“A press notice is due to be in the Gazette and notices will be posted around the site.
“The former school playing field is not included in the plans and will continue to be available for community use.”