Old school saved for community

CAMPAIGNERS are poised to win a five-year battle to save Frenchay’s old school buildings from housing developers.

The former Frenchay CofE Primary School was replaced by a brand new school on the former Frenchay Hospital site last year.

The old buildings next to Frenchay Common were earmarked for sale in South Gloucestershire Council’s 2018 budget.

Frenchay Residents’ Association had argued that the Grade II-listed building should be kept for use as a community hub, and South Gloucestershire Council’s cabinet member for infrastructure, Chris Willmore, says the council will “put together a package for the site to stay in community use”.

It has sparked a scramble to claim credit for the move, with Liberal Democrat and Conservative ward councillors all backing it.

Ideas for the building include a nursery, expanded museum and a drop-in GP surgery.

The issue had been complicated by site being owned by the Diocese of Bristol, but it has now been transferred to the council.

The Lib Dems, who run the council in coalition with Labour, say they have instructed officers to work with the residents’ association to bring it into use through a community venture, rather than the original plan of potentially selling it to developers for an estimated £500,000.

The money would have helped pay for the school’s relocation to Alexander Road, but this has been funded from other council funds and developers’ contributions instead.

Cllr Willmore said: “Since 2018, Frenchay Residents’ Association has been pushing and pushing to get South Gloucestershire Council to agree to keep the school in community use rather than flogging it off for residential development.

“When I came into the cabinet role, residents said the council would not talk to them about it.

“We met with officers on August 24 and agreed that they would immediately talk to residents and put together a package for the site to stay in community use, and they are now instructed to sort the detail.”

She accused the Tories, who lost power after May’s local elections, of failing to reverse the initial officers’ proposal to sell the property to developers.

Conservative Frenchay & Downend ward councillors Ben Burton and Liz Brennan said they had “continuously worked in partnership with local residents to ensure the building is brought back into use for the benefit of the community”, and had conducted a survey which found that 97% of residents supported the idea.

Speaking before Cllr Willmore’s announcement, Cllr Brennan said: “Our message is clear – this building needs to be reopened for the benefit of local residents in Frenchay and the surrounding area. It cannot be left derelict or handed over to developers who don’t have the interests of the community at heart.”

Making the case for the building to be used for nursery-aged children, residents association chairman Adrian Collins said: “FRA is determined to see the old school buildings utilised to give our children the best possible opportunities in life.”

He said over the past ten years the group had “shown already how the skills and experience of local residents can be harnessed to benefit the best interests of the community”.

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service