Campaigners battling to save Cleckheaton’s former Whitcliffe Mount School from demolition say they have met a senior councillor’s challenge to find a developer willing to take on the building.
In fact Whitcliffe Mount Petitioning Group (WMPG) claims to have received expressions of interest from five separate developers following a meeting with Kirklees Council leader David Sheard who said such an intervention could mean the 107-year-old Foundation building, on Turnsteads Lane, might be retained and refurbished.
But yesterday one of the developers, Pudsey-based pharmacist Rajan Gupta, said his formal notification, sent to Kirklees’ chief executive Jacqui Gedman on August 21, had gone unacknowledged.
Mr Gupta, 42, recently oversaw the redevelopment of Pudsey Grangefield School into 55 apartments. He says he has a successful track record and “more than qualified” to see the Whitcliffe project through to a successful completion.
“I like old buildings,” he said.
“I would try to keep every little bit of that building – including the clock tower – even if it meant spending extra money.
“I have the funds to redevelop the building. To somebody like myself renovating the existing structure would be a much better proposal than knocking everything down.
“But I am completely in the dark. I have not had any response at all. It’s atrocious.”
Mr Gupta invited the council to view the Pudsey Grangefield development to see for themselves what could be done with Whitcliffe. He said he is prepared to pay up to £600,000 for the land and the building in its existing state but has “no interest” in purchasing the project as a cleared site. He has also declared that he would “passionately love to preserve the outside facade of this building, including the clock tower.”
WMPG spokesman Paul Graves said he was pleased to have provided an alternative viable option. He added: “We may not have got the building yet but we have achieved our aims.”
The land on which the Foundation building sits is owned by Whitcliffe Mount School Foundation Trustee Limited. Once it is demolished – a condition made by Kirklees Council, which said the site should be “unfettered by buildings” – it will be swapped for land owned by the council on the same site.
Clr Sheard said the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has a contract to demolish the building and level the site, estimated to cost around £500,000.
And while he was unwilling to back what he called “a speculative project” he said the council “would not stand in their way” if campaigners were to make a deal with the ESFA and the school’s trustees.
“If it means that they could save the building then we would walk away from it.
“We are willing to stand back but we have no intention of taking on a building that puts us at risk of a big bill. We are quite happy to walk away from it without any financial input although I don’t know where that would put us legally.”