Parents embraced upstairs at the Lerwick Town Hall as a controversial plan to axe two primary schools in Northmavine was voted down by councillors.
Urafirth and North Roe primary schools and Urafirth nursery will be kept open while consultations on the future of Sandness and Burravoe primaries have been dropped entirely.
The decision gives at least five-years of respite to the north primary schools which have periodically been faced with closure. The West Side and Yell primaries have also been reassured of their short to mid-term future.
And councillors heard that the schools consultation has cost the council £645,000 in staff hours and other expenses since the process began.
But it sparked a furious reaction from councillors Jonathan Wills, who vowed not to stand for re-election, and Allison “Flea” Duncan – who stuck to their guns in moving for the closures in the face of disintigrating council support for the project, which was supposed to save money and provide better educational opportunities.
Lerwick South councillor Wills, who moved to close North Roe and Urafirth, branded his fellow councillors “idiots” who had suffered a mid-term failure of nerve. An emotional councillor Duncan added that the council was “gutless” and “cowardly” and called for the resignation of fellow south end councillor Billy Fox and vice-chairman of the education committee George Smith, who split with his chairwoman Vaila Wishart over the fate of North Roe.
North Mainland councillor Andrea Manson hailed the excellence and quality of the Northmavine schools following the votes which ended 12-9 in favour of keeping North Roe open and 18-3 in favour of Urafirth, which had yesterday received the backing of the council’s education and families committee.
Along with colleague Alastair Cooper, Ms Manson had argued the case for educational, health, social and community benefits of keeping the two schools, whose combined rolls number less 20, but are set to expand in the near future.
The third North Mainland councillor, Drew Ratter, was conspicuous by his absence at the sometimes fractious full-council meeting.
The three-and-a-half hour meeting kicked off with a formidable presentation of the case for the school cuts by schools quality improvement officer
Audrey Edwards. The work of Mrs Edwards and her team was hailed by both sides of the debate for its thoroughness and the sheer amount of work that had gone into the consultation process. She made clear that if councillors voted against closures, it could be a minimum of five-years before consultations could start on such a process again.
Following the votes councillor Wills said that the decisions were illogical and any rational, evidence based decision-making had been thrown out the window.
He wondered what the hard-working officials would make of the work they had produced, at the behest of the council, being rejected. He suggested they should join Petrofac where they would have better jobs on better money and “fewer idiots” rejecting their recommendations.
Councillor Duncan said: “I think this is a gutless council. You are cowards,” before calling for the resignations of councillors Smith and Fox.
Parents sitting upstairs in the main Town Hall chamber made their feelings known with their feet as the vote results were announced.
But the loudest cheer came at the announcement by councillor Wills that he would not be standing for the council again.
• More from the meeting and full reaction to the decision in Friday’s Shetland Times.