Action Notes - Ward Forum - Dingwall and Seaforth (Ward 9)
Meeting held on 27 August 2008
Present: Councillors, Margaret Paterson (Chair), Angela MacLean, David Chisholm, Peter Cairns; Dingwall Community Council, David MacDonald; Muir of Ord Community Council, Tom Davis; Conon Bridge Community Council, Alister MacKinnon; Maryburgh Community Council, Angus Christie, Chair of Education Culture and Sport Committee, Cllr. Bill Fernie; Director or Education Culture and Sport, Hugh Fraser; Area Education Culture and Sport Manager, John Ritchie; Corporate Manager, Bob Cameron; Northern Constabulary, Inspector Matthew Reiss; Highland Council, Liz Cowie, Ward Manager. There were forty members of the public present.
Apologies: Dingwall Community Council, Nigel Greenwood; Ferintosh Community Council, Colin Craig.
Cllr. Paterson began the Forum by giving an outline of how the meeting would run and asking for introductions to be made. There was a request to change the running order of the meeting however it was felt that the agenda should be followed as published. It was agreed however to move quickly through the initial agenda items in order to give time for full discussion on the main discussion topic of Education.
Cllr. Paterson then introduced a new item to be taken at the beginning of this and future Ward Forums. ‘Good news’ items would now be highlighted at the start of each Ward Forum. Cllr. Paterson spoke about the First Ministers Reception and the high level of recognition of nominated individuals from across the Ward. The success of the first ever Highland Blue Light Disco in Strathpeffer was also highlighted.
Listed below is the action required as a result of the discussion and decisions taken by the Dingwall and Seaforth Ward Forum at the meeting held on 27th August 2008.
Item 2 – Action Note from Last Meeting. It was agreed that the Ward Forum Action Notes be produced in draft until the next Ward Forum when they would be approved. LC then updated on the actions from the last meeting:
- Ward CC’s had been provided with contact details for TEC Services.
- CC’s had been advised that Ian Hay would be available to review winter gritting routes. This offer had not been taken up as yet but there was still time to do so if contact was made by the end of September.
- In response to the query on censure of cyclist not using provided cycle ways the answer was that there was no censure.
- Dingwall Traffic Order, Phase 1 (around the new Academy and Hill Street) is now actionable and with Phase 2 (High Street Pedestrianised area) due to be implemented from Monday 29th September. TEC Services will work with Northern Constabulary to ensure the effective implementation of the Traffic Order. There will be press and publicity when the Order comes into force.
- There had been a very high turnout at the public meeting held in Muir of Ord re the Muir of Ord railway bridge. There would be further public consultation in September/October when all information and options had been appraised by Halcrow.
- Following agreement at the previous Ward Forum to form a Local Action Group (LAG) for Ward 9 to facilitate LEADER funding, an initial meeting had taken place on 10th July at which the Dingwall and Seaforth Development Partnership was formed. The first meeting formally convened the group with representation comprising 50% public sector and 50% voluntary sector as determined by the LEADER programme. The group was formed as a sub group of the Ward Forum. At the first meeting the brief for a tender to engage a consultant to create a development plan for the Ward was agreed. A further meeting was called for the 11th of August to review the submissions and agree the appointment of a consultant. The consultant had been appointed and work was now underway in gathering supporting information and contacting community groups for background for the development plan. Further updates would be reported back to the Ward Forum from the Development Partnership Group.
- A letter of objection to the closure of public call boxes as agreed had been submitted.
- Training for CC’s was now being organised. LC to contact CC’s direct.
Item 3 – Community Safety. Inspector Reiss reported on statistics for the Ward and highlighted theft of scrap, diesel from HGV's and domestic heating oil as growing issues. Drink drive figures are still very high, although serious crime is down 25%. Vandalism is still a real issue across Ward communities with Muir of Ord and Conon Bridge suffering particularly high levels of activity. Phone box vandalism is also an occasional problem. Increased radar/speeding enforcement was underway and a new traffic warden had been appointed. The appointment was full time and would provide increased warden cover principally in Dingwall and in Alness. Inspector Reiss reminded all present that crime could be reported through the ‘Crimestoppers’ number - 0800 555 111.
Item 4 – Strategic Priorities. Following the adoption of the Strategic Priorities at a previous Forum, it had been agreed that a working folder of information be created that would be updated as progress was made toward achieving the objectives to improve community life across the Ward. LC distributed the packs and advised that a control document system would be introduced to ensure that all the folders were kept up to date with the relevant documents relating to the Strategic Priorities.
Item 5 – Ward Discretionary Budget. LC distributed a spreadsheet showing Discretionary Budget to date for this financial year. Position noted.
Item 6 – Consultations. Una Lee, Local Adviser (East Highland), SNH, outlined the management proposals that are currently out to consultation for the Ben Wyvis National Nature Reserve. She advised that SNH would be attending Garve Community Council on Tuesday 7th October to provide further background information and that anyone was welcome to attend that meeting. Responses can also be submitted electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org and the closing date for responses is Friday 24th October, 2008.
Item 7 – Main Topic – Education Across the Ward. Cllr Paterson asked the Director of ECS to address the topic and to deal with the questions that had been submitted by the Community Councils prior to the meeting.
The ‘here and now’ of the service was covered. Working together to inspire learning and achievement was highlighted as a key aim for the service as was providing a rounded education experience for children. It was acknowledged that this was not easy in a ‘hostile’ financial environment and that vision had to equal provision. There had been significant growth in Conon Bridge and Muir of Ord and this had brought forward the issue of issue of community and school buildings, the resources within those buildings and the challenge for the Council in meeting the aspirations of local communities. Across the Ward there is a high level of educational provision and academic achievement with 5 pupils at Dingwall Academy achieving 5 Highers with an ‘A’ pass this year. There is also high quality special education provision through St Clements School in Dingwall. ECS are subject to both internal and external evaluations and quality assurance processes so the level of monitoring is high. The planning process for providing services is ongoing with the emphasis very much on children and families.
The Director then addressed the questions raised by the Community Councils.
Conon Bridge Community Council.
Q. ‘Ron MacKenzie's letter of 23rd June indicates clearly that the Conon School project is to go ahead, the question not being ‘if’ but ‘when’. The Conon Community is therefore extremely concerned that the committee decision taken on 7th August seems to call this decision into question and that the community could lose the opportunity for a new school. This issue has to be addressed, as in the eyes of the Conon Community Ron MacKenzie’s letter is contradicted by the report and the recommendation.
A. The Director firstly gave clarification on Ron MacKenzie’s role. Background was also given to the letter to put it in context for those present. The Director then clarified that the minuted position has not changed for provision of a school with the budget identified for this. The position is that an options appraisal will now be carried out but that will not reverse the decision. There does need to be an evaluation of what is going to provide best value for Highland Council and for both local communities for education provision to 21st Century specifications. This is not about ‘selling communities short’ but about ensuring that all options are considered. The options appraisal will be carried out within four months.
Q. The community wish to know when and why the decision was taken to go back to the consultation period and why members of the Steering Committee were not informed of these plans?
A. Hugh Fraser clarified that there is absolutely no question that the committee decision has been reversed and HC will not be returning to public consultation.
Q. Recently the Parent Council were told that there was no money available to upgrade the infant toilets as the new school was to be built. What is the position now as the present toilets are totally inadequate for the numbers (42 in this current year)
A. There are currently no plans to upgrade the toilets at Conon School. There is a need to have the options appraisal carried out urgently for a number of reasons including repairs and maintenance issues at both schools. There will an upgrading of the capital programme to take into account information provided by the options appraisal.
Muir of Ord Community Council.
Q. Why (as stated in the planning report for Broomhill Farm) does the Education Service seem to feel they do not have to comment or answer requests made by the Planning Service?
A. John Ritchie, Area Culture and Sport Manager, responded to the question and stated that there had been an omission in responding to the Planning Service request. He accepted full responsibility for this omission which was due to a failure in communication in his office which resulted in the information not going forward in time. The information required did eventually go forward.
Q. What is Tarradale Primary School’s capacity and can it cope with new houses?
A. With regard to the roll at Tarradale, there are currently 230 pupils with a capacity for 279. This results in 9 classes currently being offered. Projected number of houses is 120. Statistics show that this could result in 24 pupils requiring education (this is not an exact science but ECS have to work from some baseline). Mr Ritchie visited the school on the 23rd of January. The GP (general purpose) room and hall were looked at with a view to provision of future classroom accommodation. In the old school building two classrooms are currently leased out to the Art Group on a six month lease basis. If necessary the GP room could be converted to classroom use and the Art Group rooms could be recovered. In total if all the capacity in the school was utilised this would provide 97 additional places (which equals 485 houses). It is acknowledged that there is good community use made of both the hall and the GP room and that it would not be ideal to recover the accommodation. In terms of pre-school education there is a capacity of 20 which meets Care Commission Standards
Maryburgh Community Council.
Q. The issue for the Ward is that H.C. has no overall plan or strategy for the long term provision of Primary Schools in the total area covered by Dingwall, Maryburgh, Ferintosh, Mulbuie, Conon Bridge and Tarradale schools. (The Ferintosh situation has of course implications for Tore). Can this issue be tabled, discussed and addressed?
A. School replacements are driven by the capital funds available. There are issues in consulting communities and then not having the funding to take forward the school build or refurbishment. PPP is not going to happen again and there is no new external funding so HC will continue to address the issue through regular assessment of school buildings. HC now has to look at schools and the type of schools that can be achieved with the funds available. An assurance was given that there will be a complete review of all information relating to Maryburgh and Conon.
Q. Cllr. MacLean. How does any proposal to move community groups from a school complex work with statements made in terms of working with communities and providing community schools?
A. John Ritchie responded that HC would not wish to solve one problem by creating another. HC would not wish to see any threat to the future of a local group that was working successfully in providing a popular service. If would be a last resort to move a group from a school and all efforts would be made to ensure this did not happen.
Q. Tom Davis, Chair, Muir of Ord Community Council. Returning to the issue of the lack of information coming from Education to the Planning Service, why did Planning have to state twice that Education did not give a response to Planning?
A. Hugh Fraser referred to the response already given by John Ritchie and added that there is normally a full response given. The Director meets regularly with Planners to ensure that issues are addressed. In normal circumstances ECS would have responded fully however this had been an error and hands had been held up over this particular issue. ECS were now watching situation very closely in Muir of Ord re houses and planning gain. Bob Cameron, Corporate Manager added that reports would be going to committee in November and then to full Council on planning gain and developer contributions. There was a need to strike a balance between planning gain and community benefit. Planning gain relates directly to the developer contribution (roads and infrastructure for example). Community benefit looks at what is required to improve or enhance community life. There is an update to policy required and this will be addressed.
Q. Cllr. Chisholm referred again to taking out community school rooms and the fact that community schools were becoming schools without the ‘community’ again. Cllr. Chisholm also referred to the questions submitted prior to the Ward Forum by the Members and asked that these be dealt with. He also felt that all councillors were regularly taking ‘bullets’ for ECS.
A. Cllr. Fernie responded by stating that at any time Members can ask for answers to the type of questions that had been raised. Hugh Fraser offered to address all of the issues raised by Members at a Ward Business Meeting as this would be the more appropriate platform. Cllr. Fernie also made reference to elected members leading the authority and that they were the council. With regard to the schools issue he then made reference to local press reports and to figures being quoted. He stated absolutely that what had been reported was not the case and that the Council were still working to the original figures. There was an apology made again for any mistakes made and a clear statement made that the council wished to move forward with the local communities.
Q. Angus Christie, Chair, Maryburgh Community Council. Maryburgh felt that they had had to ‘nag’ to get to the point of an options appraisal. Highland Council had had to be aware of the community tensions that had arisen and how feelings had been running high over this ongoing issue. Maryburgh as a community had even gone to the extent of commissioning their own work into the situation and this information had been made readily available to the Council. This had valuable information regarding what should be considered in any options appraisal and Mr Christie felt that it should be considered.
A. Hugh Fraser responded by stating that Highland Council will look at all the factors, information available and what the facilities currently offer in both communities. The options appraisal should rule nothing out. A ‘cut down’ version of schooling would not be an option as a ‘21st Century School’ standard would have to be reached in any eventuality. The Director stated that he was aware of the information that Maryburgh had offered to provide and that this would be looked at.
Cllr. Fernie pointed out that decant costs would have to be considered and also the rehousing costs if that situation were reached.
Q. David Macdonald, Vice Chair, Dingwall Community Council. With regard to Dingwall Primary School, are HC confident that they will be able to meet future demand for school places given proposed development in Dingwall?
A. John Ritchie responded that the situation at Dingwall Primary was fairly static. There is over capacity for pre-school so with moving provision around a change in projected rolls could be accommodated. Benchmarking has been carried out but the situation has to be monitored. The economic downturn and slowdown in the property market was referred to as it will have an effect on build and of movement of families which in turn could impact on school rolls. It was highlighted that Dingwall Academy is not pressurised in terms of capacity.
Q. Alister MacKinnon, Chair, Conon Bridge Community Council. Whilst very happy to have the key points clarified and communities concerns addressed, the point had to be made that the lack of timeous response to letters and to communications in general with ECS was considered very poor. For example it had taken 19 days to receive a response to a recent letter. Highland Councils own standard is 10 working days to respond to a letter. Angus Christie echoed these sentiments and advised that Maryburgh felt the same way and that communication from and with the service was poor. Both raised concern about future communication and sought assurances that this would improve.
A. The Director apologised for the poor communication. He stated that the issues raised would have to be addressed and communication would have to be improved.
With regard to the options appraisal, it was confirmed that the ‘scope’ would be shared with both communities and that community involvement and agreement would be sought. Commencement dates would be confirmed. Communities would be kept abreast of developments.
Cllr. Paterson thanked the Forum and Highland Council officials for their contribution to the debate and for the clarification on the issues raised. The Forum was then opened up to public questions. A wide range of issues and topics were raised across the education spectrum with the officers present giving further clarification on the issues raised relating to the Conon/Maryburgh schools debate. Specific actions were also agreed particularly in relation to issues raised by Dingwall Parent Council with regard to equalisation of the school day and access to swimming lessons through school. John Ritchie agreed to take these issue forward and to respond directly to Paul White, Chair of Dingwall Parent Council.
Item 8 – AOB. It was agreed that the topic for the next Ward Forum would be Housing. The next Ward Forum will be held in the Maryburgh Amenities Hall.