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School closures bring big security bill

Disused St Leonard's School in Hythe - closed
Disused St Leonard's School in Hythe - closed


by political editor Paul Francis

Kent County Council has been forced to spend nearly £300,000 in a year to safeguard disused school buildings.

The largest sum spent on security was for a primary school site in Ramsgate, where the council’s costs for safeguarding Newington Primary School site ran into nearly £65,000 for a year.

In the case of one former secondary school in Maidstone, the authority has had to spend more than £60,000 on security to protect the site. A further £9,000 was spent on maintenance for mothballed buildings at the Sutton Road site.

Kent was left with a large number of vacant sites in 2007 following its wide-ranging re-organisation of primary schools that led to closures and mergers affecting some 30 schools.

The shake-up, prompted by a dramatic drop in pupil numbers and designed to save £3million, left the authority with a number of vacant sites which it had expected to sell for development.

While some have been sold, the slump in the property market and the recession means many remain vacant, leaving KCC to pick up the bill for maintaining and securing them.

Figures disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act to the KM Group show that last year, KCC spent £290,000 on security and maintenance at nine primary schools and six secondary school sites.

Security costs at seven primary sites totalled more than £88,000, with a further £48,000 on maintenance.

In the case of redundant secondary school premises, the bulk of the costs have been for maintenance rather than security. The exception was the former Senacre school, Maidstone, which was closed in 2008. The large site, now earmarked for housing, has been vulnerable to vandalism.

At Ramsgate’s Ellington School for Girls, KCC spent £67,721 on maintenance of empty buildings. A reorganisation of the site, involving the relocation of the nearby Hereson Boys School, took place in 2007.

Kent County Council said it did what was needed to protect vacant school sites.

In a statement, Cllr Gary Cook, deputy cabinet member for resources, said: "We make no apology for spending this money. This is the responsible thing to do. We have to take all the necessary measures to make sure such sites are safe and secure. Senacre Technology College in Maidstone, for example, is an extensive site bordered by a large housing estate.

"Every effort is made to get the best possible value for money in securing these empty sites and each one is judged on its circumstances."

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