FIFE Council is being urged to consider all available options before taking a final decision on its plans for a new single-site secondary school in St Andrews.
‘Make haste slowly’ is the impassioned appeal from members of St Andrews Community Council as Fife education bosses consider the way forward following the much publicised demise of the historic partnership between the local authority and the town’s university, which would have seen the development of a new £40 million school on land owned by the latter.
Chairman of the community organisation, Kyffin Roberts, said that members supported the view held by the former rector of Madras College, Lindsay Matheson, that adequate time must be taken to come up with the best possible alternative solution.
As exclusively revealed in the Citizen, Mr Matheson stressed that there must be no “quick fix” to resolve the long-standing quest for a single-site secondary school.
Speaking following this week’s meeting of the community council, Mr Roberts said: ”The collapse of the talks about a new Madras has been an enormous disappointment for many people, particularly parents and children who were hoping to be part of a new school in the next few years.
“We have every sympathy with them over the failure of the protracted negotiations and the doubts about what will happen next.
“Councillors are urged to take everything into account and to have a fresh look at the possibilities for a new school.
“With the closure of the Guardbridge paper mill and the forthcoming closure of RAF Leuchars, things are changing around St Andrews. There is a need for an urgent fundamental review.”
In particular, the community group sides with the sentiments of the former rector that a “quick fix” is not the way to go forward and voiced opposition to the view of Peter Grant, the leader of Fife Council, that a decision would be made on an alternative site on September 22 when members of the policy, finance and asset management committee meet in Glenrothes.
Mr Roberts added: ”The community council believes that time spent on assessing the possible alternatives - perhaps including a reappraisal of some of the the original sites which were ruled out - and carrying out consultation would be time well spent, and that councillors should have all the relevant information before making a decision, and should ‘make haste slowly.’”
The community council maintain that discussions during the last year had concentrated on the desired agreement between the local authority and the university, without much attention being given to other aspects of the development.
The community group added that aims to reduce carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2020 will be “a key component” in future and the new school will be no exception.
It points out that, at present, over 60 per cent of Madras pupils are bussed into the town at an estimated cost of £1 million a year and with an estimated 1000 tons of carbon emissions.
“The community council believes that Fife councillors should assess and consult on all matters with the aim of delivering for pupils, parents and teachers the best possible school which will stand the test of time,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, a group of parents have written to all Fife councillors making it clear they believe that the best site for the replacement Madras remains at Langlands and that the authority should consider making a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) for the land.
Henry Paul and Andy Primmer, who are both members of the Madras Parent Council, claim the Kilrymont site - the option now preferred by council officials - is on the wrong side of St Andrews and the thought of another 40 years of buses having to traverse the town to reach a new school is “frankly appalling.”
They said: ”Education officials have spent several years analysing 11 different sites in and around St Andrews and, after careful consideration, their conclusion was that the Langlands site was the best possible location for a single-site Madras.
‘‘Surely the conclusion of that analysis, conducted with care and consideration, still stands.
”The school can be sited at the best location on the whole site and not just shoe-horned into a corner. The disadvantage for Fife Council of a CPO is that they would have to pay for the site up front.
“If the new school were to be built at Langlands, the council can sell both current school sites, valued in 2007 at £12.5million. If the new school is built at Kilrymont, the council will be able to sell only the South Street site - the least valuable of the two.”
The need for an informed debate is essential, according to John Barnett, the chairman of the Parent Council.
He told the Citizen,”It is vital that the various options are properly considered by all stakeholders on the basis of the best available evidence,
“Without essential factual comparative information being available to parents and the public there is a danger that early community consensus around the best alternative option will not be achieved.”
Mr Barnett has suggested that Fife Council prepare and publish a policy discussion paper which summarises the various options and evaluates their principal pros and cons with regard to costs, finance, timing, roll projections, transport, environment, community use, sporting facilities, deliverability, etc., and gives an assessment of any potential legal and planning difficulties.
“Based on the evidence derived from such an appraisal, the council should present the case for its preferred option to stakeholders who at present are not in possession of the necessary facts. It would be useful if such a paper were produced and published as soon as possible and a copy delivered to every parent in the catchment area.
”This is a hugely important decision for present and future generations of local children and the community at large.
‘‘While an early resolution is desirable to address the continued uncertainty, it is important that a strong stakeholder consensus is reached based on a rational evaluation of factual evidence.”
A meeting to discuss Madras was held on Wednesday evening, attended by 120 parents and others. Present also were relevant senior councillors and officials.
After a presentation, many questions were asked and answered with most applause garnered by a professor (and parent) who sought parental support to encourage the university to restart negotiations.
Other parents asked for more information on alternative sites being looked at, and sought to have full information on why the deal had broken down.
Councillor Donald Macgregor, among those present, said afterwards: ‘‘The council leaders promised to make all information available. A statutory consultation must be undertaken after the final decision – at the earliest in November – is made.’’