We didn’t hold the council to ransom, say church leaders

CHURCH leaders have denied holding the council to ransom over the closure of St Catherine’s Catholic High School.

Councillors have repeatedly claimed they could not afford the £4 million they said the Leeds Diocese wanted for the land and buildings in order to keep the school open.

But the diocese now insists that it only asked for £2.5 million.

Peter Nealon, parish priest of St Malachy’s, Ovenden, said: “We are obliged under Charity Commission legislation to achieve the best market value when disposing of surplus property, just as the council is bound by similar constraints.

“The diocese quoted the market value of St Catherine’s as £2.5 million and for councillors and others to continue quoting £4 million is inaccurate and dishonest – although it does provide a scapegoat for those looking for one,” he said.

Whatever the cost, Calderdale Council has decided that instead of taking over the school at Holmfield and turning it into an academy when it closes in August next year, it will build a 400-place extension to nearby Holy Trinity Academy.

That would eventually make it one of the largest secondary schools in Yorkshire with 1,900 pupils.

The Leeds Diocese announced two years ago that it intended to concentrate Roman Catholic secondary provision at All Saints, Bradley, Huddersfield.

But the closure of St Catherine’s would create a shortage of places in that area of Halifax.

Talks between the council and the church about keeping it open went on for months and eventually floundered because of the costs involved. The new academy is due to open in the summer with 1,500 places. Building the extension could cost a further £5 million, councillors have been informed.

Education spokesman Coun Ashley Evans said enlarging Trinity Academy was the most sensible and cost-effective way of ensuring there were good school places within easy travelling distance for the young people of north Halifax.

Councillor Evans (Lib-Dem, Warley) told the cabinet in October: “They (the Diocese) have got us over a barrel.

“We need these premises for the 700 or so children in that part of Halifax and if we lose them, we will need a new school,” he said.