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Highland Council indicates five long overdue new schools are at risk due to funding as officials try to ease frustration

By Scott Maclennan

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Beauly Primary School.
Beauly Primary School.

Highland Council has moved to ease the mounting frustration of pupils, parents and staff over whether or not the local authority will finally build five badly needed new schools.

In a vague statement released this evening, the council seemed to blame the Scottish Government for delays and vowed to offer specific and detailed briefings to stakeholder groups.

If the council keeps its promise then Beauly, Dunvegan and Park Primary schools will get “replacement buildings” while there will be St.Clement’s Special School in Dingwall and a new Primary School at Tornagrain will get built.

Funding was sought for the schools from the Scottish Government’s Learning Estate Investment Programme (LEIP), which is already long overdue.

Park Primary in Invergordon being demolished .Picture: Callum Mackay.
Park Primary in Invergordon being demolished .Picture: Callum Mackay.

Revised investments expected

The sting in the tail is that the council indicated that, depending on the outcome of the bids, it may prompt a rethink as to which schools get the go-ahead.

It also seemed to call into question whether some of the schools would even be built as “an assessment against affordability, deliverability, and impact, is required before decisions on the final revised programme can be made by members.”

That will not be welcomed by those who campaigned hard for a new build St Clements for more than two decades or the school community in Invergordon after Park Primary burned to the ground.

St Clement's School, Tulloch Street, Dingwall.
St Clement's School, Tulloch Street, Dingwall.

Work continues

But the council aimed to reassure those concerned saying they expect an announcement on LEIP funding by the summer while discussions on funding opportunities, land acquisition and masterplan considerations will continue.

Education committee chairman Councillor John Finlayson said: “I appreciate the concerns and frustrations that have been expressed by some Stakeholders in recent weeks and I would like to assure them that the council administration and officers continue to work on the review and are committed to concluding this process as soon as it is possible.”

The council leader Cllr Raymond Bremner added: “Highland Council has a vast school estate with over 200 schools. Our vision is to provide the best possible school environments for our pupils, and we will continue to work with our partners to achieve the investment required.”

Funding problems

The council stated that in December 2022 it agreed a complete review of the current capital investment programme was necessary.

That was due to significant inflationary cost increases in projects across the approved capital programme and the increases in interest rates which increased the cost of financing loan debt.

However, the review could not be concluded until the outcome of the Scottish Government decision on the LEIP funding was because that could effectively make or break some projects so members would have to decide.

Officials have apparently been seeking updates from the government about when confirmation of the successful projects will be made and that is expected by the summer.

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