Church leaders urged to bring forward plans for long empty former St James Middle School site in Bury St Edmunds
Church leaders have been urged to bring forward plans for a prominent former Bury St Edmunds school site which has been left empty for more than four years.
St James Church of England Middle School, in The Vinefields near the Abbey Gardens, closed in 2016 in the final phase of Suffolk’s move to shut middle schools.
The Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich had been working with the county council on plans for a new church primary school to open on the land.
However, the authority has confirmed the site is no longer needed for a church school and the diocese is considering its options.
The site was used for a few months in 2016 by Sybil Andrews Academy when it began its first academic year but has since remained empty - prompting concerns from a heritage group.
A spokesman for the Bury Society said the charity was ‘always concerned when a building of character such as St James School remains unused for a long period of time’.
“We would therefore encourage the diocese to bring forward development plans as soon as possible which are appropriate to its location adjoining the Abbey precinct,” he said.
St James opened in 1972 and, when it closed, was the only Church of England voluntarily aided middle school in Suffolk, enjoying a close relationship with St Edmundsbury Cathedral and local parishes.
A Suffolk County Council spokeswoman said a new school was not required as they had ‘sufficient primary places to meet demand in the town centre’, with a ‘surplus’ of primary places in schools across Bury and a reduction in demand that reflected the national picture of falling birth rates.
She said the authority did not have a view on the site’s use but ‘would expect to be a consultee on future plans if they come forward’.
While no decisions have been made, the diocese is considering its options for the future use of the former St James site - a diocese spokesman
A spokesman for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich said: “We know how important this site is to the people of Bury St Edmunds.
"While no decisions have been made, the diocese is considering its options for the future use of the former St James site.”