Former Lancaster high school could be turned into housing as part of major regeneration scheme
Lancaster's disused Skerton High School could form a key part of a multi-million pound plan to transform housing along the River Lune.
Members of the city council cabinet will be recommended on Tuesday to authorise purchase of the Owen Road site from Lancashire County Council to extend the Mainway housing regeneration scheme.
Earlier this year, councillors voted to progress ambitious proposals for what would be the largest housing and capital project ever undertaken by the council, with 'once in a generation proposals' to improve social housing on Mainway.
It was acknowledged that not doing so would mean that many of the homes on Mainway would not be habitable in three to five years’ time, and that the estate as a whole required wholescale intervention.
The work, which has involved stakeholders and residents, is being concluded and a detailed options report will be presented to cabinet in February 2022.
As part of that work, the redundant element of the former Skerton High School was identified as a key opportunity to enhance the regeneration impact of Skerton East Ward.
Officers believe Lancashire County Council is now willing, in principle, to transfer the redundant parts of the former school site to Lancaster City Council.
Chadwick High School, an alternative provision school supporting pupils who struggle to engage with mainstream education, would remain on the site.
However, Morecambe & Lunesdale MP David Morris believes the site should only be used for education purposes.
"It is deeply worrying to see that Lancaster City Council are proposing to use this site for a housing development," he said. "When the school was closed this was precisely what the community were worried about.
"This is why at the time of the schools closure I ensured that the Secretary of State for Education placed a covenant on the land which states that the site can only be used for education purposes.
"This means that the site cannot be sold to be used for housing under any circumstances, and as far as I am aware this covenant still stands."
Council officers say 70 per cent of tenants are now in favour of change.
A report to the cabinet says: "The potential acquisition of the school site will enhance the overall delivery capacity and vision for Mainway, increasing housing numbers, types of housing, local community amenity facilities and open space."
Existing playing fields would be available for wider community and sports group use and the flowering cherry tree drive from Owen Road would be retained.
Residents have been pressing for the site to be used since Skerton High School closed in 2014.
Mainway consists of 238 housing units in 18 blocks, including Lancaster's only high-rise council housing, built 60 years ago.
The latest report says the ex-school site would lead to more homes, a greater mix for young and old, single residents and families.
An in-principle agreement is being sought to progress and agree heads of terms with the county council.
"This creates a real opportunity to reverse the cycle of decline and make Skerton East a place to live with one of aspiration," the report by council officers says.
It is believed that by leaving the site as a redundant site, should Lancashire County Council not do anything with it, this would impact on the ambitious investment being proposed for Mainway.
Should Lancashire County Council decide to dispose of the site on the open market, Lancaster City Council is then open to a risk of who buys it, what they might seek to deliver on it and significantly reduce the social, environmental and community benefits having control over the site provides.
The report notes that in September 2021, the Department for Education issued revised guidance for involving the Secretary of State in land transactions.
Under the remit of the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998, which imposes restrictions on the disposal of educational land, coupled with additional restrictions imposed by the Academies Act 2010, acquisition of the site is subject to an application and subsequent approval by the Secretary of State.
That application can be made by Lancashire County Council as soon as they have fulfilled certain criteria including consultation exercises, including engagement with local schools to ensure there is no unfulfilled educational need from the Skerton site.
This could take up to 18 months.