Religious sect in school bid

Plans to sell a defunct middle school to a secret bidder have been criticised as an odd way to dispose of a publicly-owned asset.

It was confirmed this week that a religious group called the Plymouth Brethren is behind a bid under the name Larchcroft Education Trust to take over Stoke-by-Nayland Middle School when it closes in July.

Chris Napthine, a consultant based in Manningtree who is working for the trust, said the Christian church plans to consolidate a senior school in Ipswich and a junior school in Colchester into an independent faith school for 150 children aged 3 to 13, and will be fully subscribed if it opens in September.

He said there were plans to use 85-95 per cent of the existing school with no plans to build on its nine-acre field. He would not reveal the bid price.

The church group says it holds the same faith as other Christians and has 46,000 members in the UK. It has been described as exclusive with strict codes of conduct.

Suffolk County Council confirmed last week that it had received a “time-limited, unsolicited approach” from an independent school.

It asked to hear from anyone who had an alternative, sustainable proposal to purchase the site by Tuesday.

But Robert Lindsay, co-ordinator of the Babergh Green Party, said: “If the site is going to be sold, the process should be open and transparent. Giving people in the village just two weeks to come up with an offer is not likely to lead to a fair and open market for the property.

“People may be perfectly happy for this conservative evangelical Christian group to set up a private school in the village, but this is publicly-owned land and residents and parents whose children attend Stoke-by-Nayland deserve to know.”

Mr Lindsay, who lives in High Street, Bildeston, added: “Keeping the bidder secret is a very odd way to dispose of a public asset.” The county council said it would not disclose any information at this early stage.