St Elphin's to close?

WORRIED children and teachers have made a desperate appeal for their cash-strapped school to be saved.

St Elphin's School, in Darley Dale, faces financial ruin and almost certain closure after planning officers dealt a hammer blow to a proposed rescue scheme.

The school had hoped to emerge from administration through a lucrative housing development on two stretches of land along the site's A6 frontage.

But planning officers from Derbyshire Dales District Council have recommended that planning permission be refused.

School principal Dr Deborah Mouat said: "This is shattering news for everybody involved with St Elphin's.

"If this recommendation is accepted by Derbyshire Dales councillors at the planning committee next Tuesday, I will have to tell our pupils, parents and staff that the school will have to close at the end of the summer term.

"I can't tell you just how worried everybody feels at this time."

The planning application was recommended for refusal because the houses would be outside the defined settlement boundary and would destroy open spaces along the A6.

The planning report also concluded that the proposal fails to provide enough affordable housing, while the provision of new sports facilities would harm the landscape.

And it was feared that future occupants would rely heavily on private cars because of the site's isolation from jobs and services.

The report said: "The package of development does undoubtedly offer some benefits. However, set against these material benefits are very real and substantial planning objections."

But St Elphin's claims its plan would lead to the development of high quality housing, including affordable housing on land already developed for sports use.

The school says the potential housing areas are well screened and were carefuly chosen to have the minimum impact.

And the plan would also include five outdoor tennis courts, a building containing four indoor tennis courts, and a hockey pitch

Joint administrator Robert Smailes said: "I am disappointed that the council's officers have reached this conclusion despite the wide-ranging social and economic effects which will result from closure.

"The hopes of the school now rest with the councillors and I sincerely hope that they will take a different view. They certainly have strong grounds to do so."

The Duchess of Devonshire, who is a relaunch sponsor of the school, said: "I hope very much that Derbyshire Dales District Council will be able to support the school's redevelopment plans, as these are vital in securing its future.

"St Elphin's is an important educational resource for the whole community and its loss would be a big setback."

By Will Kilner