One of Bradford’s most important and historic school buildings has fallen into disrepair because of a protracted debate over its future between the owners and Council planners.
Wapping Road First School, which is the site of England’s first-ever school swimming pool, was closed in 2000 and sold to a development company in 2006 but has remained in planning limbo for four years.
An outline planning application for turning the Grade II listed building into apartments was submitted in 2004, before it was sold, but that has not yet been turned into reality.
The school’s distinguished 123-year history saw it play a leading role in the development of state education, but since closing it has been struck by arsonists on several occasions. As a result, the school’s slate roof has been gutted and most of its interior features destroyed.
Yet more than a century ago, the school created national and international headlines with the help of education campaigner Margaret McMillan and her push to improved the lot of children in the state system. Her influence helped bring the country’s first school swimming pool to Wapping Road.
But amateur historians say the pioneering educationalist would be less than impressed by the Grade II listed building’s state-of-repair.
Mark Barnes, an assistant manager in Bradford Council’s refuse department, photographed the school after being shocked by its plight.
He said: “The school is of historical importance to Bradford, but why has it been allowed to get in this state? It’s a crying shame. There are too many modern buildings which do not have the character this building does. What would Margaret McMillan think?”
A spokesman for the school’s present owners, Bradford-based demolition and refurbishment firm Sphinx Commercial Ltd, said it had bought the building from Bradford Council in 2006 with a view to transforming the building into around 20 apartments.
But despite outlining plans to maintain the school’s historic character and facade to Bradford Council, the spokesman said Sphinx had been “waiting for planning for four years”
The spokesman for the company, which is undertaking its first major regeneration project, said he was “not exactly sure” what would happen to the historic swimming pool once building work began.
“Once the planning has gone through it will be an exciting development,” said the spokesman. “We have had various people in planning dealing with it - it has been really hard work - we did not want it to go on as long as this.”
The spokesman said the building had been damaged on “numerous occasions” in spite of the company erecting an eight-foot high metal fence around the site and said vandals had even used cutting equipment to gain entry.
He said damage had already been done by 2006: “When the purchase went through it had already been vandalised.”
A Council spokesman said a number of measures had been taken to prevent vandalism before the school was sold to Sphinx: “Between 2002 and March, 2006, we pulled out all the stops to keep it secure.”
“We blocked off the access road with boulders, welded the access gate shut and took away slate from the roof to prevent access to the roof. For four years we did everything we could to keep the building as safe as possible.”
Councillor Ralph Berry, Bradford Labour group’s education spokesman, questioned why the school had been left to reach its present state and added: “We should be far more vigorous about protecting and safeguarding the heritage of this building. “It is part of the local authority’s duty to protect historical buildings in the city - particularly when they reflect on our historic leading role in childcare and education.”
Coun David Ward, Bradford Liberal Democrat education spokesman said the “school and particularly the swimming pool must be preserved”. “It would be terrible for state education in the country as a whole as well as in Bradford if it was not protected,” added Coun Ward.
Anthony Mann, chairman of Bradford Civic Trust, said the state of the school was now “beyond a joke” as it remained a “reasonably important building”.
Former Councillor and keen amateur historian Stanley King, added: “As the site of the first school swimming pool in England it has a place in local affection. I am sure many Bradfordians would be happy to see it survive into the future.”
The Bradford Council spokesman said they were still waiting for Sphinx to complete a “legal agreement” which would allow building work at the site to begin.
“Sphinx were granted listed building consent for partial demolition and conversion into flats of the former Wapping School two months ago,” added the Council spokesman.
“We have also granted planning permission subject to the signing of a 106 agreement which takes into account affordable housing, public open space and access. We are waiting for them to complete this legal agreement.
“There had been delays previously as Sphinx had not provided adequate information about the development.
“Even though it is a grade two listed building, the onus is on the owners of the building to keep it in a decent state of repair and secure the site. They would have to compensate anyone injured in the building so it is in their interests to safeguard it.”
The Council spokesman said Sphinx was under no obligation to keep the swimming pool despite the building’s listed status.