TOWN leaders have hit out at a county council claiming a burnt out school once attended by comedian Stan Laurel has been “left to rot”.

Members of Bishop Auckland Town Council have thrown their support behind the Stan Laurel Community Building Group, which hopes to help revamp the derelict King James I Grammar School for Boys, in Bishop Auckland, County Durham.

At a town council meeting this week, councillors expressed their concern about how the building in its current state was a blight on the town’s landscape and that Durham County Council needed to do more to prevent the building becoming irreparable.

Durham County Council officials have said they are exploring a number of options, but due to the historical nature of the building this work would take time.

The building was extensively damaged in an arson attack in 2007 and since then has been protected by a metal fence, scaffolding and tarpaulin.

Michael O’Neill, chairman of the Stan Laurel Community Building Group, gave a presentation to the seven councillors in attendance at the meeting about the group’s hopes to create a museum and community centre.

He told them they expect the project will cost more than £2m to complete, but that once they have received charity status, it will open up fundraising opportunities and allow them to take ownership of the building.

Councillor Barbara Veal said: “It has been a noisy bee in my bonnet for quite a while. We have not had enough information about what is happening with the building. It has been left to rot.

“I have to back this group at every opportunity I can. The county council needs to have more urgency about it to get something done.”

Councillor Charlie Kay said he believed money spent on protecting it from the weather and vandals could have been spent on repairing it instead.

“The size of the challenge is immense, but that doesn’t mean to say it isn’t worth doing,” he said. “I know how everybody feels about this building, so I say good luck to you.”

Mayor of Bishop Auckland, John Lethbridge, said: “We have had many discussions about this building but it would be nice to see something good happen with it.

“I simply support the group in what it is trying to do.”

Chris Myers, regeneration projects manager at Durham County Council, said: “We are continuing to look at all options for the former boys’ grammar school in Bishop Auckland.

“This is a listed building and, consequently, the nature of the investigations do take time.”