FIRE investigators have confirmed they believe the fire that ripped through a derelict former Dudley school building was "started deliberately".

Six crews from West Midlands Fire Service tackled the flames at the derelict former Sir Gilbert Claughton School in Blowers Green Road throughout the early hours of Sunday July 5.

Police, the West Midlands Ambulance Service Hazardous Area Response Team and a fire service hydraulic platform were also called out to the "severe" blaze which is now thought to have been arson.

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Members of the public were urged to stay clear of the area as firefighters tackled the fire which was described at one point as "challenging" as parts of the old school building were collapsing.

Dudley Council, Western Power and Cadent Gas were also alerted to the incident which saw the road closed to traffic.

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Councillor Karen Shakespeare, Dudley Council's cabinet member for environmental, highways and street services, said: “We received notification at 2.40am on Sunday morning of a severe fire in Blowers Green Road.

"The Claughton building no longer belongs to the council, having been sold by the local authority a few years ago.

“We closed the road after arriving on site to allow firefighters to deal with the blaze safely, and fenced off the building as it was unsafe.

“Security was called in to further monitor access to the site until the owners of the building arrived to take responsibility."

A plan to turn the empty Edwardian former school building into new homes was registered with Dudley Council in early April this year.

The proposal outlined a scheme to add a two-storey extension to the front of the building and a single storey extension to the rear to create six new one and two-bedroom apartments.

A design and access statement submitted to Dudley Council planners outlined a plan to retain the existing building and turn it into 27 new apartments to create 33 new homes in total which could be sold or let on the open market.

The former school buildings which date back to 1904 were built on former colliery land as part of the Edwardian expansion of Dudley and they are considered to make a "significant contribution to the appearance and character of Blowers Green Road" according to a heritage statement submitted to the council in relation to the planning application.

Planning documents show highways had highlighted concerns about the plan and suggested removing or amending the number of units proposed, while historic environment concerns were raised about "some of the proposed alterations and extensions" and that a number of amendments would be required to gain a positive recommendation for the plan.

Meanwhile - The Coal Authority said the presence of mine shafts in the vicinity meant "the current scheme cannot be permitted as in principle the applicant has not demonstrated that the site can be developed safely".

Anyone with any information about the fire is asked to call police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously, quoting log no 550 of July 5.