AN education unit at an abandoned detention centre in Newton-le-Willows is to be repurposed for Penkford School.

St Helens Borough Council’s cabinet approved the £6.8 million development on Wednesday, and, subject to the Charity Commission, agreed to enter into a lease with Red Bank Schools Limited.

Red Bank Community Home housed some of the country’s most notorious criminals, such Jon Venables, one of James Bulger’s killers, in its secure unit for juveniles.

The facility, along with its education unit, was closed in June 2014, which left Red Bank Schools Limited with a large, redundant, purpose-built facility.

In January 2019, cabinet approved a series of measures in relation to the potential development of the Red Bank site and relocation of Penkford School, which is a maintained special school based in Newton-le-Willows.

Penkford School was previously earmarked for a complete rebuild under the Labour Government’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

However, the BSF programme was scrapped in by the Conservative Government 2010, which meant the rebuilding of the school never happened.

A feasibility study on whether the Red Bank education unit could be re-purposed has established that the building could provide a suitable alternative, at an approximate cost of £6.8 million, subject to planning consent being granted.

Alternative options have been considered, including alternative sites or rebuilding Penkford School on its current site.

However, the report says the Red Bank development is considered to represent a better option for pupils and delivers better value for money.

Another reason for the development is due to the increasing pressure on school budgets due to growing demand for specialist provision for pupils with special educational needs and disability.

Speaking at cabinet, Cllr Jeanie Bell, Newton councillor and cabinet member for safer, stronger communities, said pupils and staff at Penkford deserve to have a “fit for purpose” building.

Cllr Bell said: “It’s something that the Newton and Earlestown councillors have lobbied hard on quite a while, and relentlessly. It’s great to see this coming forward.

“Essentially it boils down to the fact that young people in Penkford, at the moment, deserve to have a fit for purpose building to be educated in.

“And also the teachers who work there, who are incredibly dedicated, they deserve to have a fit for purpose building to deliver their teaching.

“And it’s that simple.”

While she welcomed the development, Cllr Bell said the Penkford site cannot be left without a plan.

The Labour councillor called for a report being brought back to cabinet setting out he timeframe for the demolition of the building, along with plans to restore the land “as soon as possible”.

St Helens Star: Newton councillor Seve Gomez-Aspron, cabinet member for reset and recoveryNewton councillor Seve Gomez-Aspron, cabinet member for reset and recovery

The development has also been welcomed by fellow Labour councillor Seve Gomez-Aspron, who recently joined the governing body of Penkford School.

Cllr Gomez-Aspron said: “Penkford were let down by the Government when the Tories scrapped the BSF programme, leaving them in a building not fit for purpose.

“In 2020, no student’s education should be limited by a substandard building, and so it’s fantastic news that the Labour council will now step into the void and facilitate the move.

“It means we can create a bigger park area around Sankey Valley, keep the Penkford School car park to solve parking issues on Wharf Road, and recycle a relatively new school building at Red Bank whilst keeping open fields behind the houses on Cholmley Drive.

“It’s been a long time coming, but Penkford will now get the school building such an excellent school deserves.”

“I’ve recently joined the governing body at Penkford and look forward to seeing how this certainty now allows the school to drive forward.”