The council has discovered that its historic decision to move the site of the Anderson High School to the lower Staney Hill is “not valid” under Scots law. The local authority is being forced to rescind the decision while it undertakes the legal requirement of full public consultation, which will take a whole year.
The embarrassing discovery has just been made by officials who had previously believed that the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 only required statutory consultation when a school was to be closed, not relocated.
The council tried to play down the mistake when questioned by The Shetland Times on Thursday, preferring to describe the legal status of September’s decision as the “preferred proposal” rather than admitting the decision was invalid.
Now a report just released for Thursday’s services committee states clearly that the decision has to be “rescinded” because it “is not valid as it was taken prior to the statutory consultation process being completed”.
The report by executive director for education and social care Hazel Sutherland continues: “The requirements of the Bill are prescriptive with set tasks and timescales which require to be adhered to.
“The scope of the consultation required is extensive and the council cannot pre-determine what the outcome from the consultation process might be. The extensive programme of consultation undertaken during the summer . . . does not satisfy the requirements of the Bill.”
In theory the plan to move to Staney Hill could be overturned as a result of the consultation findings which will not be available before November next year and will have to take account of the verdict of the government’s education inspectorate regarding the move. Others who must be consulted include parents and pupils and staff trade unions.
Concerns that the process could push the new £42 million flagship school back yet another year were allayed on Thursday by council chief executive David Clark who said preparatory work could continue in parallel, with the risk that it might be lost in the event that the Staney Hill site was ultimately rejected.
He said: “This consultation is a statutory requirement and we are determined to make sure it is carried out properly to ensure the project is not at risk. We don’t see it as a threat to delivery of a new high school.”
Services committee chairman Gussie Angus said he did not see the process as a problem and expected that the people would reiterate their support for the move from the Knab. He added that the requirement to consult had not been raised in 1999 or 2003 when there were previous council decisions to move the high school.
The new timescale for delivering the school is a minimum of four-and-a-half years, which means early summer 2014. Recently councillor Frank Robertson, a building expert, predicted the school at Staney Hill could take up to seven years to deliver. However, consultant Andrew Laidler said it could be open by July 2013 – the same date expected for a new school to open at the Knab.
If the council had stuck with its Knab plan, building work would already have been under way for five months. Instead councillors decided to do a U-turn just days before Irish contractor O’Hare and McGovern was due to move on site.
The change of mind resulted from a protest by neighbours of the proposed school and concerned parents, led by Lerwick South councillor Jonathan Wills.