CRUMBLING brick pillars leave an Old Town school vulnerable to trespassers and pose a safety risk to children, a headteacher has said.

But a spat between Lethbridge Primary School and Swindon Borough Council has erupted, after the borough’s conservation officer objected to the school’s bid to have the 11 structures demolished.

Planning officer John Somers blamed a lack of maintenance for their condition and he recommended the demolition bid be thrown out, saying the loss of the last Victorian pillars would have an irreversible impact on the conservation area.

But Lisa Mayes, headteacher at Lethbridge Primary School, said: “We are perplexed by the conservation officer’s comments that the pillars are in a poor state of repair due the school not maintaining them.

“Over time local management of schools has meant that schools have become more responsible for their buildings and infrastructure building projects. However, it seems unlikely that the state of the pillars has only occurred over the last few years.”

She said Swindon Borough Council removed a number of pillars themselves after the school was extended in 2001.

The school claims the brick piers in the south playground are now redundant, after a 2.4 metre-high mesh fence was installed.

In an email to parents, Mrs Mayes also suggested that the pillars pose a safety risk: “The conservation officer is not convinced the state of the piers makes them dangerous.

“We would suggest it is an accident waiting to happen. We prefer not to wait for someone to be hurt. Children and youths who use the alleyway a lot can be unpredictable in their behaviour and do not always see the dangers.”

The headteacher also said the brick piers pose a security risk: “They provide a handy climbing point for people to climb up and over our new security fence.

“It is our opinion that rather than an attractive addition to the site, they now look very strange as they are no longer joined to any other parts of the fencing and are just freestanding pillars of red brick.”

The school had invested in its Victorian heritage elsewhere on the site, including cleaning the original Victorian entrance signs. Lethbridge Primary School dates back to 1891.

Mrs Mayes told the Adver: “The school has worked over many years to create an environment that is sympathetic and proud of the original Victorian buildings but also fits the needs of a busy modern school.

“The costs to repair the pillars are just not able to be met by the school budget without a reduction in the resources available for the education of the children.”

Half-a-dozen people have written to borough planners in support of the school’s application and Lethbridge included letters from more than a dozen parents backing the bid.

One mum wrote: “Whilst I’m totally supportive of preserving our architectural heritage, enforcing Lethbridge School to use its limited resources on expensive repairs is ridiculous.

However, one Devizes Road resident slammed the new fencing as hideous: “Please keep these feature pillars as testament to Victorian quality.”

Old Town councillor Nadine Watts backed the school: “Although I can see the force of the conservation arguments, the safety of the children attending the school and using the path should be at the forefront of the decision making process.

“I am a supporter of Swindon’s heritage, but these pillars do not add to the heritage of the beautiful building. In the present financial situation, the school should not be expected to spend £10,000 on making the pillars safe.”

A spokesman for Swindon Borough Council said: "The planning application on the removal of redundant brick piers at Lethbridge Primary School is still ongoing. The consultation period will end on May 31 and planning officers will consider all responses before a decision is made."