The debate over the development of a new secondary school in St Andrews has taken a dramatic twist with the re-emergence of a greenfield site on the edges of the town as a contender - close to that previously earmarked by Fife Council in its ill-fated collaboration with the university.
Behind the new move is local Fife Councillor Robin Waterston, who believes that the location at the North Haugh - just beyond the St Andrews University student accommodation of Andrew Melville Hall - could be a serious candidate for a new £40 million single-site secondary school.
Speaking to the Citizen yesterday (Thursday), he said: ”Nobody should underestimate the difficulty of the process of finding a suitable replacement site for Madras College.
‘‘We need a solution which is achievable within a reasonable timescale, provides a first-class educational environment, is realistically affordable, and is broadly acceptable to parents and the communities of the catchment area. And we need to beware of rhetoric and oversimplification.
“Neither of the greenfield sites most commonly proposed would satisfy these criteria. There are major, and I would say insuperable, problems with both the Station Park and Pipeland Farm sites, in terms of both deliverability and acceptability. This is reinforced by the conclusions of the Reporter on the Local Plan enquiry. No other sites considered last October are, in my judgement, serious contenders.
“However, there is one further site which I believe has real merit and deserves careful scrutiny. This is the field at the North Haugh, owned by the university, and across the main A91 from Station Park. It is the site originally offered to the council by the university, but because of the wet ground conditions, it was agreed in 2009 to negotiate instead on the adjacent site known as Langlands, just up the escarpment. When the protracted negotiations finally ended last August, the university took both sites off the table. However, following the outcome of the Kilrymont consultation, circumstances have changed and every assumption now needs to be rigorously rescrutinised.”
Councillor Waterston explained that the previous concept involved an ambitious plan with a land swap and shared sports facilities.
“If instead a much simpler idea of a straight land purchase with no extra conditions was to be proposed, would the university be willing to discuss this? I hope that they would.”
Focusing on the suitability of the site, Councillor Waterston said that if an underpass was to be formed across the A91 St Andrews-Guardbridge Road, this would give ready access to Station Park and the playingfields.
He continued:”This should leave sufficient room on the site for a school of the size required, as well as ample space for bus and car parking, which could also serve as park-and-ride outwith school terms. The building would be offset from the road, and would not impact negatively on critical views.
“There is, however, a range of practical issues, the most obvious of which is the high water-table and poor drainage. This presents a technical challenge, but it is not necessarily insuperable. Can a first-class school be built on this site? Would it be affordable? I believe that these questions are worthy of investigation.
“I hope that both the council and the university can think hard, be imaginative, and find a way to give serious consideration to this idea. It could offer an exciting solution, with a range of incidental benefits to both parties.
“But, we have to be realistic as well, and recognise that until we have a full assessment and detailed results of technical surveys, we cannot be sure that this proposal would actually be feasible. The only way to find out is to do the necessary work.”
A spokesman for the university said:”Fife Council rejected this site when it was first offered three years ago. We have not received any approach from them about it since.”
A final decision on the future of secondary school education in North East Fife and the provision of a new secondary school to replace the present two-site Madras, will not be taken until after May’s local elections.
The council’s preferred option to remodel and extend the Kilrymont Road campus was given the thumbs-down following a 10-week consultation exercise.
The ambitious vision to create a state-of-the-art secondary school in St Andrews, sharing facilities with the town’s university at Langlands, was ditched last year when the institution pulled out of the deal after years of meticulous planning.
Discussions over the best possible option to replace Madras College first began more than a decade ago and the process has been dogged in controversy ever since.