Row reignites as special school revamp costs escalate

Cllr Gareth Dadd.

A row which saw community groups offered funding by a council only to be told by another local authority that the money was not available has reignited after it emerged the funding was being set aside to the cover rising costs of building works at a special school.

Speaking ahead of a meeting of leading North Yorkshire Council members and officers on Wednesday, the authority’s executive member for finance and deputy leader, Councillor Gareth Dadd said the authority was set to prioritise £2m raised through housing developments in Ryedale to secure services for vulnerable children.

The move follows applicants to Ryedale District Council’s Community Infrastruture Levy (CIL) scheme, including Kirkham Henry Performing Arts, Ryedale Learning Trust and Ryedale Special Families, being told they had been successful by the Malton-based authority before being told by North Yorkshire Council the funding was needed elsewhere.

Extraordinary scenes erupted at County Hall in June as the leaders of Ryedale District Council, which was abolished two months earlier, turned out at a meeting of North Yorkshire Council’s executive to accuse them of “robbing” funding from community schemes to cover schools schemes which taxation should pay for.

An officers’ report to Wednesday’s meeting states while a “significant risk of catastrophic buildings failure”, relating to heating and drainage, was identified at Welburn Hall Special School last summer, the total cost of the project had risen significantly.

The report recommends the authority pursues “the lowest cost option that retains both and educational capacity of 120 pupils whilst providing space for residential placements” from September 2025 at the school near Kirkbymoorside.

The officers’ report states the investment in Welburn school would “not represent any improvement in the performance of the buildings or their functionality” to support the education offer at the school.

Officers underline how the Tory administration set aside £5.3m for the works earlier this year, having had an application to the Government for support with the revamp rejected.

However, officers have forecast, when the works cost is added to the cost of the temporary classroom hire and associated enabling works, the total bill for works related to Welburn Hall building challenges would now be about £6.2m.

Former Ryedale District councillor and Liberal Democrat councillor For Amotherby and Ampleforth Steve Mason said North Yorkshire’s proposed use of the funding felt “like a smoke and mirrors approach”.

He said: “We were told the CIL money was already allocated to fund much-needed improvements at Welburn Hall. But it appears that funding already existed from another pot and Ryedale’s CIL money is to be used as back up just in case the costs rise.

“This security could have been provided from significant council reserves and recouped later allowing the CIL money to be allocated to other applications.”

Joy Andrews, Liberal councillor for Pickering division, questioned if the CIL money was not all needed whether it would “still be spent in Ryedale for Ryedale residents as promised”.

She added: “For instance, into the future, there should be more money allocated for new modern facilities encompassing both physical and mental wellbeing. Ryedale continually is the poor relation when it comes to sport and leisure in North Yorkshire. This does need to change.”

In response, Coun Dadd said the authority had refused to sanction Ryedale council’s ambition to spend the funding on grants for community schemes while unaware of how much the Welburn Hall revamp would cost.

He said: “We knew that there was always a risk with our priority schemes. Spending that money on Welburn school was certainly an option at the time, which is why we didn’t concede to the dash to splash the cash.

“Welburn Hall School will provide services for the most vulnerable in our community and that has always been our priority. Anybody who casts doubts on our intentions and motives really ought to having a word with their own conscience.”