Cash strapped council buys land for a new St Clements without the cash to build it
Highland Council has confirmed that it has finally bought the land for a new St Clements School building in Dingwall but the construction is not expected for at least half a decade.
It is more than a year since members of the education committee agreed to move ahead with the new site on Docharty Brae in the west of the town in anticipation that a new building would be imminent.
The Ross-shire first revealed news that the site was to be purchased imminently and though the council did not reveal a figure sources said it was for around £500,000 for the purported future school, whose construction has now been pushed back.
The SNP-Independent administration ditched promises to build 10 new schools in a massive series of U-turns in September and then the council lost out on long-hoped for Scottish Government Learning Estate Improvement Programme (LEIP) cash.
So the prospect of a badly needed new building for the “Dickensian” current facility is not any nearer despite the welcome land purchase and is now expected at the earliest to be well into the next decade.
Housing and property committee chairwoman Councillor Glynis Campbell Sinclair appeared to suggest that the loss of LEIP funding led to the adjustment in the investment programme.
That does not tally because the council cancelled or “deferred” the school building projects in September and the first news of the loss of any LEIP cash from the government only came in October.
She said: “Sites suitable for school construction are finite across Highland and there has been much work carried out by our property and legal team to progress this land purchase.
“The Revised Capital Programme (2024 to 2029) [was] impacted by a reduced level of funding and the unsuccessful LEIP 3 bid has required capital programme adjustment and whilst the council are not currently in a financial position to proceed with the build at this time, purchasing the land takes us a significant step closer.”
She added: “We have 200 schools in our vast estate and, despite investing millions of pounds in delivering school replacements and essential care and maintenance in Highland, we still have 74 (37 per cent) of schools rated C-Poor for Suitability.
“Nationally, the percentage of schools graded as ‘Good’ is nearly 91 per cent, whereas in Highland it is just under 20 per cent, subsequently the council has requested a meeting with the Scottish Government to discuss what investment options might be considered to ensure our school estate provides a conducive learning environment for children in the Highlands and provides greater equity with the rest of Scotland.”