Council officials are resisting concerted attempts by two councillors to force a last-minute delay to a special planning board meeting on the proposed new £49 million Anderson High School.
Gary Robinson, who is vice chairman of the planning board, has added his voice to that of Jonathan Wills in seeking to put off Monday’s meeting to give objectors more time to consider late amendments to the application.
Officials are recommending that councillors approve the plans to demolish the whole of the existing school apart from the original Anderson Institute, opened in 1862, and build a new five storey school to accommodate up to 1,000 pupils on the site at the Knab.
New council chief executive David Clark is understood to be keen that, should councillors give the go ahead, builders O’Hare and McGovern can get on site to start work during the summer holidays.
In a letter also circulated to Mr Clark, Mr Robinson has written to the council’s head of legal services Jan Riise stating that, while not pre-judging the application, he is concerned that not only objectors but some council officials have voiced concern about the late submission of documents.
The same concerns were raised with Mr Riise by Dr Wills, but Mr Riise replied that the proper procedures had been followed and that the meeting will go ahead as planned on Monday morning.
In an angry statement this week, Dr Wills said: “Mr Riise is mistaken. It’s not all right. It’s all wrong and a travesty of normal procedures. This application must be referred to Scottish ministers for impartial, expert assessment and a decision based on the principles and policies of the council’s own local development plan.
“The planning board meeting on Monday can only be a charade and is now fatally compromised by local political considerations, chief among them desperation to save the faces of those who’ve so far spent over £4.5 million of public money on a project which the council has still never formally approved and which anyone can see is in clear breach of the local plan.”
Councillor sets out objections
Councillor Jonathan Wills has written to planning board chairman Frank Robertson claiming that in relation to the school project councillors face an even more acute conflict of interest than they do over the proposed Viking Energy windfarm.
In a letter setting out how he intends to object both to the application to build the new school and a separate application to demolish the old one, Dr Wills said that as members of the committee dealing with education, planning board members were “hopelessly conflicted”.
He will claim that the new school will make it impossible to put the council’s sustainability policy into effect and exacerbate traffic congestion while demolishing the old school will cause severe difficulties due to problems with a particular type of asbestos in the A, B and C blocks.
There have been 12 letters of objection to the application on various grounds, including increased traffic and problems with parking and access; the design of the building being out of keeping with the local vernacular; the loss of daylight to neighbouring property; and the absence of detailed cost/benefit analysis of alternative sites.
If approved, building work is expected to take three years. As well as the existing school, the games hall and the New Bruce Hostel will be knocked down.
The new building will be constructed from steel, with the external walls in rendered blockwork with a sandstone finish. There will be some timber cladding. The roof will be aluminium.
In their report, council officials assert that the building does not contravene the local development plan, stating that “a good balance between the aesthetic and the functional aspects of the design has been achieved, and … the proposal can be considered to comply with development plan policy in this respect”.
The council has been looking at building a new school for well over 20 years, including at one stage a plan considered for the area next to the leisure centre at Clickimin. The existing school is now in a state of serious disrepair, which has galvanised councillors into action.
Dr Wills also criticised the council for failing to take up an offer from Architecture and Design Scotland, which advises on the design of new schools, for input on the plans.
“Although Architecture and Design Scotland doesn’t have any statutory power, it is the main public watchdog on architectural design quality and ministers attach great importance to its views. Perhaps the people still pushing this bad design on the wrong site … feared what an honest, independent appraisal might tell them.”