BOLTON Council has been criticised because a school building — destroyed in a mystery blaze — had been left vacant for months after it became disused.

Clarendon Primary School’s Victorian former home in Clarendon Street became the second former school building in Bolton to be ravaged by fire in the last 18 months.

Cllr John Walsh said there was “no excuse” for the buildings being left derelict as the council had months to plan their future after deciding they would close.

But council chiefs insisted they had disposed of those buildings in the safest and most cost-efficient manner possible.

Oldhams Primary School, which was a regular target for vandals, was demolished in March, 2013. There had been four fires in three months at the site.

The Clarendon Street building, built in 1886, will now also be demolished.

Cllr Walsh said: “The real issue is that once again the council has vacated a building, leaving it standing idle.

“There ought to be a full exit strategy to make sure things like this do not happen and buildings are not left prone to vandalism.

“This has now been vacant for months and not been demolished. Buildings should be demolished as soon as they are empty, or put to future use, so they are not lost in this way.”

The fire service has been unable to establish a cause for the blaze on Monday at the old Clarendon building.

Clarendon School moved into new facilities across the road in Bridgeman Street in April, and the council has admitted the old building had been targeted by vandals a few times since then.

Police warned the council to board up the ground floor of the school after they were called to an act of criminal damage on Sunday evening.

Cllr Walsh added: “Schools are not just built overnight. They will have spent years planning the new site and getting it ready, so something should have been done in advance to ensure the old site’s safety or arrange its demolition.”

A council spokesman said: “Not all our empty buildings are destined for demolition. In some cases they are marketed for sale, or as rental opportunities.

“For those planned for demolition, we have to carry out surveys that, for health and safety reasons, can only be completed once a building becomes vacant.

“We also have to undergo a tender process to appoint a contractor, along with arranging disconnection of utility services.”