School saved

PLANS to demolish a derelict school building and replace it with new homes have been thrown out.

The fate of Easington Colliery School has hung in the balance for a number of years after owners First National Investments submitted proposals to demolish the grade II listed building and replace it with houses and apartments.

Hundreds of locals supported the scheme but conservation groups along with east Durham-based charity Acumen Development Trust wanted to preserve the structure.

A planning inquiry was held to settle the dispute and it was announced yesterday that planning permission has been refused.

The planning inspector was concerned that not enough effort had been made to find an alternative use for the building. He added that the school was an important monument to the development of education and of the Easington community.

But Tony Mann, director of First National Investments - which owns the building, said he was surprised and disappointed by the decision.

"We still feel that the school blights Easington Colliery and we will study the decision before deciding on the next course of action," he said.

Mr Mann added that there was a possibility the company could appeal the decision.

Easington councillor Dennis Raine was one of 500 locals to support the plans to demolish the building and build 39 new properties on the site.

"People in the village will think they have been stitched up because they have had to suffer for the last nine years since it closed," he said.

Kate Welch, from the Acumen trust, said the charity would now try to raise funds to buy the building and convert it into an enterprise centre.

"It will make a huge difference to jobs and businesses in the area and will make a much bigger impact than building 39 houses," she said.

The Victorian Society also campaigned against the demolition of the building.

A spokeswoman said: "A lot of people have been living with this derelict building on their doorstep for too long and it needs to be sorted out."