A FORMER social club that has stood empty for three years is set to become the site of Oxford’s first free school.

The Lord Nuffield Club was founded in the 1910s as the Morris Motors Sports and Athletics Club, but closed down with debts of £3m just two years after moving into a new building in Temple Cowley. Since then, speculation has surrounded the future of the £4.5m building.

But last night development firm Cantay Estates revealed it had bought the building and the sports grounds that surround it for just over £1.5m.

And now the company is in negotiations to sell a section of the site to the group behind Tyndale Community School, which is set to open on the site in September 2013.

The proposed primary school is intended to have more than 400 pupils by 2019.

Dr Russell Rook, chief executive officer of Chapel Street Community Schools Trust, which is behind the proposed free school, said: “It is a site we identified early on and I think it will be a fantastic environment for learning.

“The club is a great building. It has not long been built and it has hardly had any use. We always thought it was a really good possibility.

“Our philosophy is that a school should be part of the community and the community should be part of the school. The school will be a hub for all different kinds of activities.”

Steve Jones of Oxford Community Church, which is also part of the group behind the school, will be one of the governors.

He said: “Entry will be non-selective.

“It is not possible for the school alone to educate a child and there will be a lot of effort put into involving families in playing a role in the life of the school.”

He said the school would have a “religious character” but would be open to people of all faiths – or none.

The search for a headteacher is currently under way, with a decision expected soon.

Tony Nolan, of Cantay Estates, said he could not disclose any financial information relating to the deal but said: “The club buildings will be sold to the school at a price which both parties consider to be a fair and reasonable market price.”

He revealed the rest of the 4.6-acre site, described as a “disused and overgrown former private sports field”, would be developed for private and affordable housing as well as all-weather sports pitches which will be available to the school and to the community.

There could be about 40 homes in a mixture of houses and flats on the site, of which half would be affordable in accordance with Oxford City Council’s policy.

But former Oxford city councillor and club member Bob Timbs expressed concern about the location of the school.

He said: “There is definitely a use for the school in the area so it would be beneficial, but the traffic in the mornings will just block Barracks Lane and Hollow Way. It is a very narrow lane and not a good spot for a school.”

Earlier this year the building was set to be sold to Oxford Brookes University for use as a conference centre, but the talks fell through.

A public meeting is being held at the club on Tuesday, November 6, between 5pm and 7pm, where members of the local community can find out about the plans for the site.

It is expected planning applications will be submitted towards the middle of next month.