£46m Peebles High School plans fail to give athletes of future a sporting chance of success, say objectors

Borders athletes Chris O’Hare and Stacey Downie are backing opposition to plans drawn up for a £46m new high school in Peebles, arguing that better sporting facilities are needed.

By Darin Hutson
Friday, 18th March 2022, 2:08 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd March 2022, 10:19 am
How the proposed new Peebles High School would look

Athletics coaches Linda and Gregor Nicholson, of Peebles, have lodged an objection to Scottish Borders Council’s proposals for a replacement high school because of what they say is inadequate provision for athletics, and that objection is being supported by Olympian O’Hare and multiple Scottish champion Stacey Downie, two of Tweeddale’s best-ever athletes and both past pupils of Peebles High.

Scottish Athletics is also backing their protest.

The Nicholsons, both members of Moorfoot Runners, cite the size of the Springwood Road school’s roll and its catchment area, as well as its distance from the nearest full athletics facility at Tweedbank, as reasons for better provision.

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In their objection, they point out that since the existing 100m sprint track and long-jump runway were created in 2014, almost 170 individual medals have been won at national championships by pupils of the school or other athletes training there – 63 golds, 63 silvers and 42 bronzes – and that’s a conveyor belt of success on track and field they want to see continue.

Linda, named as Scottish Athletics’ development coach of the year in 2019 and awarded a British Empire Medal for services to sport in 2016, said: “With only one pit, long-jump technical training invariably has to be undertaken into the prevailing wind, thereby never replicating conditions under which competitions are always held, which is always with the prevailing wind, and high jump training is limited to taking place indoors in a gym hall, when one is available, usually with a restricted run-up and in trainers rather than spikes.”

Gregor added: “Our middle-distance training necessitates back-to-back shuttle runs on the existing 100m track to replicate training repetitions between 150m and 400m, either that or we have to use rough grass or paved paths.

“We have made some progress discussing possible enhancements with council officers. We fully appreciate that the council has many calls upon its available budget and it’s a case of swings and roundabouts where the investment goes, but we hope that the powers that be will recognise that athletics is deserving of better facilities and ensure a provision which can contribute to improving progress and achievement in athletics at Peebles High School and in the Tweeddale community.

“What is currently outlined in the planning application would be a retrograde provision compared to the already-downgraded athletics provision completed in 2014.

“Throughout the last two years of discussions about the potential for redeveloping Peebles High, all the talk has been of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enhance provision for the next generation, not just for the school, but for the community. The current plans fail in this regard as far as athletics is concerned. The provision in the plans does not even match the already-inadequate status quo.

“In the current plans, the siting of the long jump runway separate from the sprint track, and also on a north-south orientation, are what make the proposed athletics provision worse than the already-downgraded 2014 provision.”

In her submission supporting the Nicholsons’ objection, West Linton’s Downie, currently 400m Scottish indoor champion, says: “As a competitive athlete, former pupil and former teacher at Peebles High, I am well aware of the constraints on local athletes to be competitive at national level due to lack of athletics facilities.

“The individual national medal success statistics in Gregor and Linda’s submission are incredible given the circumstances.

“So much more could be done with better facilities and I hope that Scottish Borders Council will see the sense in providing for the next generation of athletes from Tweeddale.

“The proposals put forward would be a serious setback for local athletes and present a significant obstacle to their development or to attract new athletes to the sport.”

O’Hare, formerly of West Linton but now living in the US, adds: “Whilst attending Peebles High School myself, ending in 2008, I had no option but to travel to Meadowbank in Edinburgh, typically four times each week. That meant an average of eight to nine hours’ travel up and down to Meadowbank each week.

“I am familiar with the training adaptations which need to be applied for local athletes to try to train effectively for middle distance due to the lack of a full 400m track.

“Whilst a full-size 400m track might not be possible, I urge consideration of the enhanced provision that Gregor and Linda have outlined in their objection.”

The current school, with a roll of about 1,500 pupils, opened in 1858 as Bonnington Park Academy and has been much expanded since.

It wasn’t previously scheduled to be replaced by a new building until 2032 but was bumped up the council’s list of priorities after a fire there in November 2019.

Edinburgh-based Bam Construction has been appointed as main contractor for the project and construction is expected to start before the end of the year following the submission of a planning application last month.

Its plans have sparked 16 objections so far, including the Nicholsons’.

Among the other objectors are Moorfoot Runners committee member Colin Wiliams and Peebles Rugby Club development officer George Blair.

The former writes: “The plans as proposed truly represent a missed opportunity, given the scale and budget of the works.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and we urge a rethink of the athletics provision in the plans to ensure enhancements that can contribute to improving progress and achievement in athletics at Peebles High and in the Tweeddale community.”

The latter criticises the “totally inadequate changing facilities planned” and also calls for provision to be made for spectators at football and rugby matches.