BURNLEY’S planned free school has been thrown into jeopardy after it was refused a lease for its preferred site.

Trustees of Burnley High School had hoped to use the old Habergham High School buildings, in Byron Street, from September.

But Lancashire County Council (LCC) leader Jennifer Mein has blocked the move, saying a new secondary school would have ‘a destabilising effect’ on the town’s education.

However the ‘Christian-ethos’ school, sponsored by Chapel Street Community Schools Trust, said it was still ‘absolutely confident’ of opening in September.

The refusal of a long-term lease is set to spark a legal tug-of-war between Labour-led LCC and the Department for Education (DfE), which could ask the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, to intervene.

Coun Mein said: “I have taken this decision on the basis that Burnley does not need any additional secondary school places and that the establishment of a new school would have a destabilising effect on the existing high schools in the borough.”

A report containing the full details of the decision has been withheld by LCC because it ‘contains exempt information’.

Burnley High School, which was given the go-ahead by the DfE last May, had hoped to welcome an initial intake of 90 Year 7 pupils in the autumn, but refused to reveal how many applications it had received so far.

Dr Russell Rook, chief executive officer at Chapel Street, said: “We are absolutely confident of opening in September.

“We have had another open evening recently with 50 parents turning up. This shows that parents are excited.

“I think any project involving opening a new school has complexities. We are used to having dialogue and arrangements with local authorities and communities.

“We, and the DfE, are very experienced in this and we want to make it work.”

A DfE spokeswoman said it could use ‘scheming powers’ afforded to it by the Academies Act 2010 to acquire the Habergham High School site.

The spokeswoman said Schedule 1 of the Act allowed the Secretary of State to ‘compulsorily acquire’ land formerly used as a school for use by academies and free schools.

She added: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring Burnley High School opens in September 2014 “We are yet to receive confirmation from Lancashire County Council on their decision. If they choose not to agree the site in question, it does not stop it being transferred and this process is underway.”

Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle said: “I’m aware the county council are intending to stop this happening for political reasons.

“The aim of the county council is to sell the land for housing, which the residents of Byron Street and Kiddrow Lane don’t want. ”