Angry Dunvegan parents and community leaders have come together to condemn a chronic lack of investment which they say has brought north west Skye to “crunch point”.
Members of Dunvegan School Parent Council and Dunvegan Community Trust believe the area is crippled by a shortage of housing, a falling down school and no sporting provision.
And they say a failure to provide even the basic facilities should be “a source of great shame” to Highland Council and the Scottish Government.
The groups spoke out after the council voted to drop the area’s long-awaited new primary school from its 2024-2029 capital plan.
It also means the shelving of 16 new affordable homes – which would have been the first in Dunvegan for 25 years – and a sports pitch, as all were part of an interdependent master plan.
In a joint statement, the parent council and the trust said: “While we all feared this was coming, given the financial backdrop, we cannot stress enough the severity of the situation in north west Skye resulting from the lack of long-term rental and affordable housing, our sub-standard school buildings and complete lack of recreational facilities.
“This is a result of years of non-investment, and it has really reached a crunch point.
“As Skye councillors are acutely aware, we have virtually no long-term private rental market in north west Skye, like everywhere on the island.
“As has been the case for many years, we have local people homeless, sitting on the housing list, waiting to be housed in Dunvegan, while we also have staff shortages in every sector.
“The Dunvegan Primary School building is literally falling apart, and now serving such a large catchment area for sgoil-airich and primary age that the car park alone is a tragedy waiting to happen.
“These dilapidated, neglected, damp and mouldy buildings do not reflect the tenacity of the school community and staff, nor do they reflect the investment we want to make in our children s future, in the most meaningful way we can which is through education.
“If north west Skye doesn’t have some serious investment soon there will barely be a population to make use of any community sports facilities!
“To run down an area through lack of investment, centralisation and lack of attention, and then fail to provide the absolute basics for the people still here – a school which is safe for our children to learn in and their teachers to teach in – should be a source of great shame to Highland Council and the Scottish Government.”
Understandable anger in north west Skye
Parents and community members in north west Skye have every right to feel aggrieved at the decision to shelve plans for a new school, sports facilities and housing in Dunvegan.
All three strands of the development are badly needed and locals have been let down by a succession of failed promises which now stretch back years.
Last week Highland Council decided to put Dunvegan and nine other school projects on the back burner because they are no longer deemed affordable.
There were apologies in the council chamber as members said they were left to face up to hard financial realities, with Skye member Calum Munro acknowledging that ‘expectations had been raised’ by an ambitious capital programme which had included some projects, without any allocated budget to pay for them.
John Finlayson, chair of the education committee, said the local authority had themselves been left waiting for money that never came: “It’s worth noting that the money has not been taken away from this capital plan. Sadly it was never there in the first place,” he pointed out.
Dunvegan, and the other Highland school projects, were ultimately let down because their fate rested on support from the Scottish Government’s Learning Estates Investment Programme.
That cash has not been forthcoming and as a result the wait for Dunvegan’s new school goes on.
Inflationary pressures post Covid have heaped an extra burden on local government after years of underfunding – though that doesn’t wholly excuse what has been a fairly pitiful record of infrastructure investment in the West Highlands over the past decade.
During that time there have been other public spending priorities and some very high profile and expensive mistakes (Ferries? Trams? City-region deals?) all of which have put strain on the public purse.
It’s also worth recalling that the area would probably have had a new school by now had previous plans not been shelved following a botched consultation process to close neighbouring primaries which ended with a court ruling in 2016.
At the time governing MSPs cheered the court judgement against the council, but a decade on and they have yet to put forward an alternative which would better suit the needs of the vast majority of the area’s children.
Meanwhile, the longer people have to wait for a project, inevitably the more expensive it gets.
Cost doesn’t negate need, however, and Dunvegan School Parent Council and Dunvegan Community Trust summed up their situation well this week in a powerful broadside at the authorities.
Their joint statement said: “To run down an area through lack of investment, centralisation and lack of attention, and then fail to provide the absolute basics for the people still here – a school which is safe for our children to learn in and their teachers to teach in – should be a source of great shame to Highland Council and the Scottish Government.”
One councillor has suggested community-led initiatives for new schools could be the way forward.
In Strontian a new building was secured for under £1 million – and then leased to the council to use as a primary school.
It has also been proposed that wind farm money could potentially help in north Skye.
Every avenue towards community improvement should be explored, though it should not be the job of parents and local volunteers to fund and establish modern buildings in which to educate island children.
The community also say a ‘crunch point’ has been reached and their concerns shouldn’t be ignored.
The absence of housing, leisure facilities and access to a well-equipped school is only going to add to the already significant challenge of attracting and retaining young people in north west Skye, and the many areas like them suffering a similar plight.