COUNTY Hall has been handed £96.3million to increase school places across Essex, raising serious concerns over why it pushed ahead with plans to shut the Deanes School.

The Department of Education awarded Essex County Council the mammoth sum last month to boost the number of schools places in the county in the next three years.

It is the second largest amount of funding awarded to a local authority in the whole country, with only Birmingham topping that total.

Nowquestions are being asked why the council went along with trying to close the Thundersley school last November if new pupil places are needed.

Castle Point MP Rebecca Harris said: “From the outset this whole process has been based on an absolute injustice.

We know Essex County Council has successfully bid for funding to cover a shortage of school places and it has been awarded the second biggest grant in the country.

“Is it intending to spend that in the second most densely populated area in Essex, which is Castle Point? If not, that is taxpayers’ money and frankly, we want that money back.”

Staff at the school have consistently argued the area would suffer a major shortfall in places if the Deanes School was closed.

Last summer, using the county council’s own data, they showed by 2022 there would be a 14.4 per cent deficit in school places in Castle Point, meaning 142 pupils would have to be educated elsewhere.

However, County Hall claims forecasts show the number of children of secondary school age in Castle Point is falling and the school will be over half empty by 2015.

Desi McKeown, assistant head teacher, said: “We understand there are places in Essex where there is dire need for school places due to population growth and Colchester is one of them.

“The interesting thing for us is that in 2010 the council started closure procedures for Alderman Blaxill School and it will be closed this year, but in two years time they will need more pupils numbers.

“We are worried the same thing will happen in Castle Point. We have always argued that with a minimum of 4,000 homes being built here in the next 15 years there will be a need for a third secondary school here which should be us. It seems exceptionally short sighted to close us.”

Ray Gooding, Essex county councillor responsible for education, said: “In December, Essex County Council received £96.3million from the Government to be spent on increasing school places across the county through 2014-17.

“This funding must be spent in the areas that have the most need and where the pressures on places is the most significant.

“The council has a duty to spend this funding responsibly and adhere to the basic need guidelines, and must create school places in the specific geographical areas that need them – there are no such pressures in Benfleet.

“The funding will primarily be spent on increasing primary school places through expanding existing primary schools or building new ones.

“There are some areas in the county where further secondary school places are needed, particularly in North Essex.”