TORY ‘financial incompetence’ has delayed the new Radcliffe Riverside school for years to come, say Labour.

The credit crunch means that the original plan to raise money for the new school is all but dead, at least until the economy picks up.

Town hall bosses admit that nobody wants to buy the Radcliffe High and Coney Green sites, an essential part of financing the new Riverside on the former East Lancs Paper Mill site.

It has now emerged that the only real chance of getting the money is if Bury ‘jumps the queue’ for government cash under its Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

Local councillors, and MP Ivan Lewis, blame the Tories for “delays” which have now cost the school dear.

But this charge has been rejected by council leaders, who say negotiations to buy the ELPM site are “at an advanced stage”, and their vision for Radcliffe is alive and well.

Bury will bid for BSF money this month, and could ultimately receive £180 million to rebuild or modernise all its high schools. The council has drawn up a strategy for secondary education, in which one plan is to amalgamate the Riverside with Derby High in Bury, building the combined new school on the ELPM site.

The arguments boiled over at the council’s ruling executive last week, when the BSF bid was approved.

Labour leader Wayne Campbell wanted to remove Riverside from the other schools proposals, because the council had long ago agreed to build the school by January 2009.

“This would allow other schools to come into the first stage of BSF,” he said. “If we leave Riverside to go through BSF, it could be put off for five or six years.”

However, council leader Bob Bibby said the school would cost £28 million, towards which the council had only £5 million of government money.

“I would be happy to take Riverside out of these plans,” he said. “But there’s no opportunity whatsoever to build Riverside in the timescale agreed by the council. There’s no way I can sell these sites, nobody is interested.”

Coun Campbell then accused the leadership of deliberately stopping the school being built in the last two years.

“We have been hoodwinked — there was a hidden agenda that’s now coming out,” he said. “We should have sacked a couple of people, and that school would have been built at the right price for the people of Radcliffe.”

Local MP Ivan Lewis has now weighed in, accusing the Tories of cynically destroying the town’s vision for regeneration.

“The Tories are motivated by deep-rooted snobbery that communities like Radcliffe should settle for second best,” said the Bury South MP and government minister. “They have no respect for the fact that Radcliffe families have high aspirations for their families and community.

“They now have serious questions to answer about financial incompetence following the collapse of land deals to sell the existing school sites.”

But Coun Bibby responded: “Unlike the previous Labour administration’s failed schools review, where they wanted to close two high schools, which proved so divisive, our schools review is a ‘win-win’ solution for all our secondary schools.

“The vision for Radcliffe is alive and well and the announcement for an expanded ‘state of the art’ high school will greatly benefit parents living in Radcliffe and beyond.”

He added: “As far as land transactions are concerned, I am not sure how it could be incompetent to save local council tax payers millions of pounds by getting the land at a better price, and in line with the District Valuer’s valuation for the land.”