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Lack of detail about new Nairn academy building and exact location criticised by community councils

By Donald Wilson

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COMMUNITY councillors have criticised the lack of information available to the public on the proposed new Nairn Academy with just weeks before a planning application is formally submitted.

Representatives of the Nairn River and Nairn West & Suburban community councils attended an open evening at the school in June to meet teachers, Highland Council planners and representatives of developers Balfour Beattie.

But members of the councils were unimpressed by the presentation, which did not include designs of the new building or where in the grounds it will be erected.
Their concerns were shared by some neighbouring residents of the school who said the presentation provided no information about access, the scale of the building or where it will be located.

Brian Stewart, secretary of Nairn West & Suburban CC, said two main issues were driving the haste to build the new school on the existing site.

He said: “Firstly the existing school is unfit for purpose. Secondly there is a fear the funding will be lost so we are in a situation when we ‘take it or leave it’. I was very disappointed by the lack of useful and detailed information at this exhibition.

“Everyone is aware that the existing academy is not fit for purpose. This has been known for decades.

“The present proposal is very obviously being driven by short-term factors: the poor state of the current building, and a desperate rush to secure government funding against a very tight deadline.

“This underlines the lack of sensible long-term strategic planning by the council. The present site has limited access and is constrained by the railway and existing housing.

"There are concerns about the reliability of the council’s capacity calculations. There was no detail at the exhibition of the appraisal process, little information on the design or specification, and no indication that alternative locations or designs had been considered.

“The possible relocation of the library was not addressed: it is already clear that local residents believe strongly that the library should remain in the town centre.

"Serious questions also remain over the provision of adequate recreational facilities and sports fields and about the long term plans for Nairn’s swimming pool.”

Both community councils say also there is little evidence that the council had learned the lessons of other "recent school-planning failures" elsewhere - the lack of capacity at Croy/Tornagrain and Culloden, where portakabins are having to be brought in, and serious shortcomings in design and structural specification at the new school in Wick.

Mr Stewart continued: “The planning for a new academy is of major importance to the whole town. Not just for the education of future generations of children, but because of the wider implications for the community.

“The proposals currently being pursued for Nairn appear to be a ‘take it or leave it’ offer drawn up with minimal community input. Yet another example of piecemeal short-term planning, driven largely by funding-deadlines. It may be desirable to do it quickly. But it also has to be done right.”

Nairn River CC chairman Hamish Bain said of the open evening: “It was a strange presentation because there were no proposals for the school to be considered.”

Mandy Lawson of Nairn River CC added: “The consultation is to support and influence the proposals. But we’ll get nothing because the plan goes forward in September. As stakeholders we weren’t even consulted. The community has not been involved since day one.

“We absolutely sympathise with the school staff and understand why they want to get a new school. The teaching environment they have is not fit for purpose. But the whole Nairn community and the residents of Cranloch should have been involved in this consultation two years ago. Here we are weeks from submission of ‘a plan’ and there’s nothing to ‘like’ or ‘not to like’.”

A Highland Council spokesperson said: “The council recently held a public drop in event at Nairn Academy which community members were invited to attend. During the event, details of the site analysis and accommodation requirements were presented for comment. The feedback received will inform the design development for the school over the next few months. Details of the design will be presented to the community at the next consultation event in September, prior to the planning submission.”

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