Row over delay of schools rebuilding programme

Scottish Borders Council’s schools rebuilding programme has taken another step forward, but some councillors have hit out at delays to the planned redevelopment of the fire-damaged Peebles High School.

Thursday, 8th October 2020, 2:29 pm
Councillors Shona Haslam and Carol Hamilton at Peebles High School after the fire last November.

At a meeting of the council’s ruling executive on Tuesday October 6, councillors agreed to endorse a funding application to the Scottish Government for the rebuilding of Galashiels and Peebles high schools.

Last year, it was agreed that Galashiels, Hawick, Selkirk and Peebles high schools will be rebuilt in that order, as part of a major capital expenditure programme by Scottish Borders Council.

A replacement for the 1,300-pupil Peebles High School, costing £92m for a like-for-like upgrade or £128m for an all-age campus, was not due to open until 2032.

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However, a devastating fire in November led councillors and local education officers to look at a new Peebles High School as a priority.

Now, the council’s executive has approved plans that would see Peebles High School’s campus be redeveloped as early as 2025, at a cost of £40m, although the council’s budget, agreed in February this year, indicated construction would be complete by 2024.

The executive has also rubber-stamped plans to completely rebuild Galashiels Academy by 2025, at a cost of £55.5m.

Hawick will have to wait longer for an upgrade, as the council is submitting a progress report to the Scottish Government outlining a £48.4m redevelopment of the existing Hawick High School site, due to open in 2026/27.

Hawick will not receive a completely new high school, like Gala, but instead will see some of the historic elements of the campus retained.

Selkirk High School will be the last school to be redeveloped, with plans for a new building or upgrade still in the formative stages.

At the meeting of the council’s executive, Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley said: “I just wanted to acknowledge a couple of things.

“One, it is incredibly ambitious, and hopefully it will be very well received by Scottish Government.

“What I thought was impressive is that we’re not delivering three identikit schools and just dropping them into each of the towns, there’s clearly a huge amount of work which has gone into designing the right schools, in the right place, and using assets which are already there.

“The council has just recommitted it’s sustainability and climate goals by declaring a climate emergency, and I hope that will very much be at the forefront of the design team’s minds.”

Council leader and Peebles councillor Shona Haslam said: “Last week myself, councillor Hamilton and councillor Rowley had a really good meeting with Peebles Community Council, to address some of their concerns.

“It was a really helpful meeting as Peebles are obviously very anxious that the rebuild there doesn’t affect the education quality of children over the course of the plan, and they were reassured that the plan officers have come up with doesn’t do that.”

However, Peebles SNP councillors have expressed dismay that their town’s high school will not be redeveloped until 2025, when previously the council had approved plans that would see the upgrade in place by March 2024.

Councillor Stuart Bell, Tweeddale East and SNP group leader, said: “Whilst we welcome the submission of proposals to the Scottish Government, on Tuesday morning we heard that the rebuild won’t even be under way within the lifetime of this council.

“The council administration cannot claim that Covid has caused the delay.

“Throughout the period from March to August we were repeatedly assured that work on the new high school was still progressing.

“But in just six months the Peebles High School rebuild project has slipped by a full year.

“The next council administration to be elected in May 2022 will have to finalise the design plans and aim to complete the rebuild by May 2025.

“As this will be a new administration, we have no idea whether this delayed timetable will be met.”

Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson added: “The shortfall of nearly £3m in the insurance settlement for damage caused by the Peebles High School fire, together with increased costs of around £10m have also increased the overall estimate for the high school, with no details about how this funding will be met in the capital budget.

“That means that recent council and executive decisions have put a £30m hole in the capital budget agreed in February.

“It’s urgent that we now review the whole programme.”