A NEW free school is set to be built on a former school site plagued by vandalism and arson.
The former Ridgewood School building in Burnley was wrecked by a fire nearly four years ago after standing empty since 2009.
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Now plans have been revealed to open a new ‘alternative provision’ free school.
The Heights Burnley was given approval by the Education Secretary in September and will provide education for pupils aged five to 16 who have found it difficult to achieve in their mainstream setting.
Academy bosses at the Education Partnership Trust said they have secured approval to build the school on their preferred site after it was transferred to them by Lancashire County Council.
They will now be holding a consultation into the plans.
In 2013, it took 30 firefighters to tackle the huge blaze with crews having to use specialist decontamination equipment because the building was found to contain asbestos.
Sharon Roscoe, chief executive of the Education Partnership Trust, said: “We are pleased to have had approval from the Department for Education to develop our plans for a new alternative provision free school at our preferred site on the former Ridgewood High School site in Burnley.
“We are now working closely with the Department, the Education Funding Agency, other Burnley Schools, Lancashire County Council and Burnley Borough Council on our plans for the school.
“We will also be holding a full consultation with parents and other stakeholders.
“Once open, the new school will deliver outstanding education enabling pupils to develop confidence, resilience and employability so they can progress into education, employment and training.”
The school was due to open in September, but the date is likely to be delayed as plans are yet to be submitted.
Cllr Mark Townsend, leader of Burnley Council, said: “I am delighted that there appears to be a solution in terms of where this school is going to go.
“I look forward to it opening and bringing that site into use.
“The fire was a major incident and I see this as a good step forward to bringing good use back in to that area of town.
“It can only help in reducing anti-social behaviour.”
Plumber Sabir Khan, who lives nearby also welcomed the move.
He said: “I think anything that puts the site to positive use is brilliant.
“It is good for the area and will will help lift it up.
“It was left derelict by the council and there were organisations that wanted to take it on but the council was not keen for whatever reason.
“A building left derelict is open to vandalism.
“It is a really nice area but you get the good and the bad in any area. It got burned down in the end.”
Mr Khan called for some of the land to be used for the community.
“It would be nice to give the kids an area where they can play and have some sports facilities.
“It is a really big ground so it would be good to cater for the youngsters.”
This was echoed by James Horsford, manager at the nearby Pennine Lancashire Community Farm.
He said: “We have a small use of that bottom plot and we would like to see any development continue to use the outside space as an educational tool or to the advantage of the local community.”
The Education Partnership Trust already runs The Heights in Blackburn as well as Pleckgate High School, Coal Clough Academy and the Eden School.
Ridgewood Community High School, which educates pupils with special educational needs, was relocated to the same site as Sir John Thursby Community College in Eastern Avenue in September 2009.
Cllr Shah Hussain, councillor for the Daneshouse with Stoneyholme ward which covers the site, said having an alternative provision school would give parents more choice, particularly those that are unhappy with the referral unit.
“If it was just another free school I would be quite sceptical about it, with other schools from Burnley losing pupils from their schools, to a free school.
“It has been subject to vandalism because it is empty so hopefully that will stop.”
The site was previously earmarked for housing with plans submitted to build 24 homes there shortly after the fire in 2013 and again last September.
However the application, which was submitted by Lancashire County Council, was withdrawn.
County Cllr David Borrow, deputy leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “The transfer was straight forward enough.
“The government can instruct the council to hand over redundant schools or the council can reach an agreement which is what we have done with the Education Partnership Trust.”