Claims that young schoolchildren have been ‘used’ in efforts to secure Lottery funding for a play park in Earlston have been strongly refuted.
Pupils at Earlston primary and high schools, who live in the TD4 postcode area, were balloted on the subject at the end of last month and the results are expected to be included in a forthcoming newsletter issued by the group behind the controversial proposals for a play park at Mill Meadow.
A postal ballot of adult residents is also expected to be carried out shortly on behalf of Earlston Community Development Trust (ECDT).
The ballot is part of a wider community engagement survey as requested by the Big Lottery, which wants proof the project has wide public support before it will release £250,000 of funding.
But not everyone was happy that local youngsters got to have their say on the matter.
In letters to local press, John Eckford complained: “I have to ask the question on how morally can this be acceptable for such young children to be used as pawns in an attempt to secure funding for a private project,” he stated.
“Discussions on the project have been going on for nearly two years now, and public opinion within Earlston has been deeply divided. The use of children has done nothing but aggravate the situation further.”
The youngsters at both schools were balloted on June 26 and this was conducted by Coreen Knight, community learning and development worker, with no-one from ECDT, or any of the objectors, present. Statements outlining the arguments for and against the Mill Meadow site being used were read out and children then asked to mark ‘x’ next to the box they chose on the ballot slip.
The ballot slips were then taken to local authority headquarters at Newtown St Boswells to be counted in a supervised manner.
The results will be submitted to the Big Lottery within the Engagement Plan Report which will be publicly available and the results of the school ballots will also be provided to each head teacher.
And ECDT has now publicly responded to the criticism over the involvement of children, saying the charity absolutely refuted the charge it had ‘used’ the youngsters for what Mr Eckford had wrongly termed a ‘private project’.
In a letter, trustee Sarah Petrie stated: “ECDT has worked hard to ensure all members of Earlston have had the opportunity to be involved in our recent community engagement plan and this does not discriminate on the basis of age.”
She went on to dismiss Mr Eckford’s allegation that those children not living in the TD4 areas were removed from class during the ballots as incorrect.
On Mr Eckford’s doubts over the moral acceptability of involving children, Ms Petrie pointed out that children and young people had signed the complex and lengthy petition created by objectors to the park.
And she added: “ECDT believes that children and young people should enjoy as much respect within their community as adult residents receive.”
And local Scottish Borders councillor David Parker agreed: “Pupils learn about citizenship in school and this is a very topical issue affecting them, so why shouldn’t they be asked?”