A new primary school should be built in Lerwick as the town continues to grow and around 400 new homes are on the cards.
That is the view of isles MSP Tavish Scott, who says Lerwick primaries are “bursting at the seams” and wants the SIC to look at a new school in Sound.
Plans for about 100 homes have been unveiled for the former Anderson High School site at the Knab along with other uses of the listed school buildings.
A public consultation is being held next week on proposals for about 300 homes on Staney Hill.
Mr Scott believes the SIC should be looking to build a new school due to the hundreds of extra homes planned. Having visited Bell’s Brae and Sound Primary Schools over the last week, he believes there needs to be change.
He said: “The teaching staff in both schools were expressing some longer-term concerns about the pressure on their class sizes as Lerwick expands.
“That also goes with placing requests that come into Lerwick where parents choose to put their children either to Bell’s Brae or Sound as well … I think now that the council has finished the new Anderson High School inevitably their educational attention needs to consider the provision of primary education in Lerwick…
“It seems to me doing some planning now on the basis that a new school is going to be necessary in, say five year’s time.”
Mr Scott admitted there was not a smaller primary school in other parts of Shetland that would not want more pupils in it, though the reality was added pressure on schools if housing plans in Lerwick went ahead.
With the UK government announcing its budget this week, Mr Scott welcomed the promise of £2billion of new money coming to the Scottish government.
That pledge from Chancellor Philip Hammond has prompted a political row with the Scottish government’s finance secretary Derek Mackay dismissing it and saying Scotland had been “shortchanged”.
In his Letter From Holyrood column in this week’s Shetland Times Mr Scott is more positive about the announcement. He argues such money could be used for a new school.
A national shift in childcare provision would also mean more classrooms and more staff, he said.
“Sound looks the sensible site for a new school as the size of the school grounds makes that possible,” Mr Scott said.
Mr Scott said staff pointed out a way the school could be built in a phased manner “with minimal impact on the existing school”.
Asked if this should be a matter of urgency for the council, Mr Scott, said there was time.
“They haven’t started building any new houses yet but in some ways, the council are in a good position because there is a little time to carefully consider how best to ensure there’s adequate primary school provision in Lerwick…
“There’s more capital monies available now from the Scottish government and the council might want to think about making a bid for that at some stage.”
Mr Scott is meeting council chiefs every week in the lead up to the Scottish government’s budget announcement. Chairman of the SIC’s education committee,
George Smith said he expected the council would have to consider the impact of extra housing.
“My expectation would be that if there were to be 300 and 100 houses built in those two areas then we would have to give serious thought as to how to meet the primary school needs.” Meanwhile, there have been differing opinions from Lerwick councillors.
Lerwick North councillor John Fraser thought the council should consider building another primary school.
“I firmly believe that the current infrastructure that we have isn’t going to be able to sustain an increased population. We need to seriously consider how we address that and I would propose a new primary school for Lerwick.
“I think we have the opportunity with the Knab site to perhaps consider that.”
Lerwick South councillor Peter Campbell also sits on the Sound Primary School Parent Council.
“Without serious consideration given to the situation I don’t think we should be shouting for a third primary school school,” he said.
“I think we need to be looking at it and seeing what real demand there is for primary places and realising that we’re not going to suddenly have 100 houses available at one time.”
He did not believe parent groups at Bell’s Brae or Sound were calling for “a super primary”.
Architects have said this week it will take 10 years to complete the housing at Staney Hill and the majority of the properties will be to house single people.
Mr Campbell thought there would be phased development at the site “so the numbers might not be that great, at least in the initial stages” and it may also mean a redistribution of people in the town, he said, so the impact on the population “may not be all that significant”.
He suggested the Scottish government may also be opposed to building a new primary school as “significant sums of money” had been spent in the last couple of years on the two primary schools – in the region of about £2 million.
In a statement from Bell’s Brae Parent Council, the body considered that the matter was not straightforward.
The parent council stated: “We think that if there’s additional money that could be brought into Shetland then that sounds good, especially if it could be spent on education.
“The new AHS has shown that there’s benefits to being in a modern building so we’d hardly complain if we could get a new primary school designed for the next generation instead of the last.
“It’s complicated and we’d want to see proper consideration of all the implications.
“Bell’s Brae is definitely a busy school but that’s not a bad thing. It’s a matter of record that nearly a quarter of pupils at the school are placement requests. If that SIC policy changed then the Lerwick schools might have some capacity so more people living in Lerwick isn’t automatically a problem.
“It’d be good to know whether the council has a strategy for when schools do reach their limits.
“The idea of a new super-primary has been raised before but we’re not planning to spend much time discussing it.
We’ve got enough to worry about and to be honest we’d prefer to focus on our current challenges around road safety, teacher shortages causing daily problems, and ever-decreasing operating budgets.”