Skye community must sacrifice pitch for school

The council delegation met with members of the community on Tuesday this week. Pic, Willie Urquhart

Highland Council this week gave the green light for the first phase of a new primary school in Dunvegan on Skye to be built on the local sports playing field – despite alternative plans being proposed by local community members.

During a meeting in Dunvegan Hall on Tuesday evening chaired by Councillor John Finlayson, the council reiterated its preference to build the £3 million phase one development on the site of existing sports pitch.

The decision was met by strong objections from a considerable section of the community at the meeting, with North Skye Football Club having presented the council with plans for three separate locations for the new build outwith the school sports field drawn up by an independent surveyor.

The North West Skye Recreational Society had already secured £150,000 of funding from the Dunvegan Trust to upgrade the pitch.

During Tuesday’s meeting, which was attended by more than 60 people, Highland Council estate strategy manager Robert Campbell said that after considering the alternative options the council’s chosen site of the playing field remained the best option.

That view took into account the need to include space for further expansion to the school and ensuring that the final layout was as safe as possible with regard to access and separation of traffic and pedestrians.

He said: “All these things add up, and it is not a decision which has been taken lightly. But what we keep coming back to is that the best decision for this school is for it to be built on the playing field.”

Local resident Calum Campbell said that the north-west of Skye accounted for “a quarter of the land mass” of the island. He questioned what if any facilities had been provided by the council in the area over the last 40 years.

Mr Campbell added that this decision meant the “rug had been pulled from under the community once more”.

There has been a long campaign to get a new school for Dunvegan. Pic, Willie Urquhart

The head of the parent council, Daniel Wood, said: “We’re pleased that the football club took it upon themselves to do an independent site survey. The parent council met with them and had a look over all the plans and we are pleased that other options are available.

“Obviously we all really want to see a new school on the same site, but we don’t want to lose the football pitch.”

Andy Woods asked: “Is this not more important than money. Is this not about keeping the community together?”

Parent council member Lucy Salter asked: “When are we going to have an absolute certain ‘yes, this is going ahead’ by the Highland Council? We need that confirmation so we can get over it and move on without this grumbling going on.”

Funding for a phased build in Dunvegan was announced in June this year.

The facilities will include a nursery, kitchen, dining, games hall and ancillary accommodation, along with the demolition of some poor-quality buildings.

Speaking after the meeting, North West Skye Recreational Society secretary Angela Nicolson told the Free Press: “We brought in an independent qualified person who used the plans that were produced by the council for the school in 2016 and that surveyor was able to place their drawings on three different locations – on the current site, away from the top pitch.

“Those are final phase drawings, not what the council are proposing just now – phase one. This is what is so upsetting. There will be no sports facilities until they eventually knock down the main building.”

She added that their surveyors said they could provide a pitch for £120,000 which would be up to SFA standards.

If the council were do anything in a different site, it would cost between £750,000 and £1 million.

Ms Nicolson said: “We believe that the Dunvegan Trust have got the money and want to support this plan so it could go ahead tomorrow!”

Councillor Finlayson said: “While this is not everyone’s favoured option, evaluations have shown it to be the best option. It is critical that things begin to happen to ensure that the hard-fought funding that has been secured to date is spent ,and both the council and the community look at other options to find further funds to complete all aspects of the project.

“We cannot delay making a start any longer.”

Article by Adam Gordon