KIDNAP FEARS: Janice Gorlach
KIDNAP FEARS: Janice Gorlach

CONTROVERSIAL plans to close a popular school footpath in Barnard Castle have been turned down despite serious concerns over pupil safety, including claims of a possible child abduction.

An application to divert a public path away from Teesdale School’s grounds was considered at a special meeting called by Durham County Council’s highways committee last Friday (November 23).

Managers at the school had applied for the footpath to be re-routed to prevent unregulated public use of the track and enable improvements in school security. A new public bridleway was also proposed.

About 30 people attended the meeting, at Enterprise House, in Barnard Castle.

The executive headteacher at the school and chief executive of the North East Learning Trust, Janice Gorlach, said: “All the staff at Teesdale School worry everyday about access to the children from the public footpath. The path cuts the school into two and leaves the children wide open to multiple and serious dangers. We have averted a lot of things. If it was not for vigilance, we would be having different stories here.

“We had to have lock down in the summer which prevented 600 children being able to access the fields. That was in order to stop the abduction of one child we were alerted to. The school was built 60 years ago and the dangers for young people in our society did not exist as they do now. It is not fit for purpose now. It remains with us a constant worry.”

A new footpath was proposed along the access road to the TCR Hub from the A688, following the perimeter of the school grounds and linking with an existing footpath which would be extended to Strathmore Road past Teesdale Leisure Centre.

A number of objections were received in response to the diversion.

On behalf of Barnard Castle Town council, Cllr Frank Harrison said: “The altered route is substantially less convenient and would have a detrimental affect on public enjoyment of the path as a whole.”

Similarly, Barnard Castle Ramblers and the Open Spaces Society objected. Concerns were also raised about the A688 footway. The Open Spaces Society described the path as “unpleasant and dangerous”.

However, Durham County Council’s access and rights of way team leader, Mike Ogden, said: “The condition of the footpath alongside the A688 has been inspected by highways officers and they have no concerns about its condition and suitability for pedestrian usage.”

Cllr Paul Sexton said: “I walked round the route this morning. The road for me is a big concern. It did not feel very safe. I am sorry to hear that the school has had problems. I did not realise that there was such a problem here in Barnard Castle. I understand the need for security but I am yet to be convinced by any of it. I see no evidence of a potential abduction. I think the route all the way around is more than an inconvenience. I think it is dangerous.”

Meanwhile, committee member and Barnard Castle county councillor James Rowlandson said: “I have walked the route myself this morning and with wagons going past you do get blown around a bit. Children from Stainton Grove are using it as it is. If Durham County Council consider their safety as fine then we can’t really argue. For the children to be safe, I think it is a good idea that they enclose the school.”

The majority of councillors voted against the application for the diversion but gave the go-ahead for a creation order for a new public bridleway from Dent Gate Lane, along the former railway line, to Strathmore Road.

Speaking after the meeting, Ms Gorlach, said: “It is disappointing. At the end of the day we can’t go into detail about things that have happened for individual children. We have to enclose those fields. It will cost us vast amounts of money but we have no choice.”

Vehicle gates will be installed at the school car park during February half term. The top playing field will also be fenced off imminently.