PLANS to rebuild crumbling schools in the region have been thrown into a fresh crisis, after the collapse of a private finance deal to fund them.

The completion date for up to four schools in the Sunderland area - including Hetton Secondary School and Shiney Row Primary, in Houghton le Spring - has been put back by at least one year.

Now there are fears the problems may also strike some of 18 other schools in the North-East and North Yorkshire that are due to be rebuilt - many of which have already been waiting years for the desperately-needed work.

One school in County Durham, Seaham School of Technology, is part of the Sunderland scheme and others elsewhere in the North-East may also be affected.

Education Secretary Michael Gove pledged to investigate the latest hold-up, after the controversy was raised in the Commons by Bridget Phillipson, Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South.

Ms Phillipson condemned the delays as "unacceptable", telling The Northern Echo: ""There will be significant costs in keeping open existing buildings, such as asbestos management.

"I want to know what assistance will be offered to schools as a result of Government incompetence. The staff, students and parents have waited long enough and this is unacceptable."

At stake are rebuilding schemes for 22 schools in the region, which are all due to funded through the private finance initiative (PFI).

They were promised help last year, from a £2.4bn Government "priority" scheme, after many saw their dreams dashed when the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) scheme was axed in 2010.

The schools are in County Durham (three), Stockton-on-Tees (three), Hartlepool (three), Redcar and Cleveland (two), North Yorkshire (one), Gateshead (four) and York (two).

But they are being financed through PFI - a 'mortgage' arrangement under which the public sector repays private financiers - rather than by a direct government grant.

Now Ms Phillipson has been told the PFI scheme for the Sunderland - and Seaham - schools has collapsed, because banks have refused to lend the money for a 25-year project.

Attempts are underway to rescue the schemes by raising bonds - a method not thought to have been previously used for schools - but the completion date has already been put back by 12 months, to September 2016.

One head teacher told Ms Phillipson that the delay was a "real blow" and would force Sunderland council to spend more money to "patch us up until then".

A Durham County Council spokeswoman could not comment on the completion date at the Seaham School of Technology, adding: "We are awaiting further information from the Government about the PFI set-up."

Quizzed in the Commons, Mr Gove pledged to investigate, saying: "If there has been any slippage in the particular case that the honourable lady has brought to my attention, I will look at it and write to her."

Stephen Twigg, Labour's education spokesman, raised fears that Sunderland's experience would be repeated, saying: "Ministers need to get a grip of the situation to ensure it doesn't become widespread."