A TOWN could lose its only secondary school as a £20m proposal to build an “amazing learning environment” in a neighbouring town has been approved.

The future of Greenfield Community College - previously split between two sites in Newton Aycliffe and Shildon - was debated in a cabinet meeting this week.

Read more: Bilsdale transmitter: Vouchers offered to homes still affected by loss of TV signal

Durham County Council leaders agreed to rebuild the site in Newton Aycliffe, costing an estimated £20m, and base the college on that single site.

The public will be consulted on closing the site at the former Sunnydale School in Shildon.

All pupils have been taught on the Aycliffe site since the Sunnydale site was temporarily closed due to health and safety concerns in January 2020.

The new plan will make those arrangements permanent with an ambitious investment amid falling pupil numbers and financial challenges, it was said.

Council officers said this was the “best future option” to raise standards and make cost-effective improvements.

However, the plan drew opposition. Councillor Fred Langley from Shildon Town Council asked the cabinet to explore alternatives to “terminating secondary education in Shildon”.

He said the important historic railway town had been “overlooked” and suffered from a lack of development.

He added: “Currently with a population of about 10,000, it doesn’t have a bank, it doesn’t have a full supermarket, it doesn’t have an adequate police presence, resulting in excessive juvenile anti-social behaviour.

“It doesn’t have a youth centre, but it does have three excellent primary schools which will feed into a new and fully equipped secondary school.”

He argued the closure of Sunnydale would give the town an “additional handicap”, making it a less attractive place to live.

He added a new school in Shildon “to celebrate the 200th (anniversary) railway celebration in 2025 would revitalise this town”.

Cllr Shirley Quinn said in a question to the cabinet: “How can this be fair for families wanting the best for their children and Shildon not being able to offer this?”

Cllr Matt Johnson said Newton Aycliffe residents already had Woodham Academy in their town while “Shildon parents are not blessed with that luxury of choice”.

Cllr Samantha Townsend said: “It’s evident that our children will be put at a systematic disadvantage by having no choice than to be up and ready significantly earlier than their peers in Bishop Auckland and Aycliffe.”

She suggested Government policies had been “successful in levelling down Shildon”.

Councillor Ted Henderson, cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “The recommendation option includes an ambitious plan to invest significantly in Greenfield school and build an aspirational learning environment which will inspire the children from all of those communities.

“The cost of sustaining the current set-up at Greenfield is not sustainable and money has been wasted on temporary remedies. Well, a long-term solution is required.

“The recommendation option will give us a chance to provide an amazing learning environment for the young people and we would like to make that happen as soon as possible.

“We are trying to give Greenfield Community College the resources and infrastructure which will secure strong outcomes and progress for the pupils.”

He said the Newton Aycliffe location was “crucial” as the area’s population made up 70% of the Greenfield school intake.

Cllr Richard Bell, cabinet member for finance, said: “The current position is not tenable... Maintaining a secondary school in Shildon is neither in the best educational interests of the children, nor is it financially viable.”

He added significant investment was “sorely needed” in the Newton Aycliffe site and they would seek government funding from the national School Rebuilding Programme.

Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also follow our dedicated County Durham Facebook page for all the latest in the area by clicking here.

For all the top news updates from right across the region straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.

Have you got a story for us? Contact our newsdesk on newsdesk@nne.co.uk or contact 01325 505054