Ian Blackford seeks meeting with Highland Council Leader amid local unrest over Skye school plans

The council’s decision to give the green light to develop the first phase of a new primary school on the football pitch in Dunvegan has been met with disapproval by a number of people within the community. Photo credit: Willie Urquhart.

Ross, Skye and Lochaber election candidate Ian Blackford has said that plans for a new primary school in Dunvegan “cannot come at the cost of the football pitch”.

He has written to Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson to request a meeting on the matter.

The SNP candidate’s comments come a week after the council gave the green light for the first phase of a new primary school in Dunvegan to be built on the local sports playing field, despite alternative plans being proposed by local community members.

The sports pitch was chosen as the council’s preferred location to site the £3 million first phase development as they said it would allow further expansion of the school – and would also ensure that the final layout is as safe as possible with regard to access and separation of traffic and pedestrians.

However, the North West Skye Recreational Society secured £150,000 of funding from the Dunvegan Trust to upgrade the pitch to Scottish Football Association standards. The recreational society also employed the services of an independent surveyor who – using the drawings developed by the council for the school – drew up three different locations all of which were away from the pitch but within the existing school boundary.

Ian Blackford has written to Highland Council Leader Margaret Davidson to invite her to host a meeting with him in Dunvegan.

In a letter to council leader Margaret Davidson this week, Mr Blackford – a former chair of the recreational society – said that the alternative plans which would have allowed the new development while preserving the playing field seem to have been “rejected out of hand without adequate explanation”.

He added that there was considerable concern that the council was going ahead with the proposals without “seeking to achieve a consensus of the parents and the wider community”.

Mr Blackford invited Ms Davidson to host a meeting with him in Dunvegan at her earliest convenience so they could “listen to the voices of the community and give careful consideration as to how we can proceed with the school development whilst securing the playing field for this and future generations”.

Speaking to the Free Press, Mr Blackford said that the investment in the school was welcome but added that the plans “cannot come at the cost of the football pitch with no clear replacement plan in place”.

He said that as the playing field in Dunvegan was the only one in the north-west of Skye, it would be “a disaster for Dunvegan and the surrounding areas” to see it go.

The council reaffirmed at a meeting held on 18th November that developing the first phase of the school on the football pitch was the best option. Photo credit: Willie Urquhart.

At a meeting held in Dunvegan village hall last week, Highland Council estate strategy manager Robert Campbell said that the decision on the council’s preferred option had not “been taken lightly”. However, he added that the “best decision for this school is to build it on the playing fields”.

The finance package for the phased build will comprise 50 per cent Scottish Government early learning and childcare funding and 50 per cent from Highland Council. The facilities will include a nursery, kitchen, dining hall, games hall and ancillary accommodation.

Skye councillor John Finlayson sought to impress on those present at the meeting that with a review of capital spending due to take place within the council in the next few months the money earmarked for the first phase could not be guaranteed unless the development became active.

At the public meeting, local youngsters Lewis MacLeod (13) and Sam Maclelland (11) presented a petition to the council in opposition to the local authority plans which had more than 120 signatures.

Article by Adam Gordon