Plans for a “shed-like” new Gaelic school on Skye were approved by Highland Council this week, despite the objections of the local community council.
The project will see the demolition of the Margaret Carnegie Hostel in Portree – a former poor-house dating to 1859 – and the more recent boys’ hostel and the creation of a new £8 million Gaelic primary school with outdoor sports facilities on the site.
Local councillor Drew Millar described the granting of consent for the new school as “a historic moment”, despite concerns which have been expressed over the state of some existing schools on the island.
While planners had recommended granting permission, Portree and Braes Community Council objected to the proposals on the grounds of the loss of the Margaret Carnegie Hostel — “one of the very few historical and attractive buildings in Portree”.
They also felt that the proposed design for the new school was out of keeping with the area and that it “looked more like a factory or supermarket than a place for children to receive their education”.
In addition, the community council raised concerns over increased traffic on Dunvegan and Struan roads and felt that public consultation on the plans was poorly advertised.
A total of 15 comments were received on the application.
Planners admitted at the meeting that the design of the school was disappointing and “functional”. The chair of the north planning committee, Councillor Isobel McCallum, said she felt the building invited criticism as it was “very poorly designed, drab and shed-like”. She added that it looked like a factory and hoped that different materials could be used to brighten up the outside of the school.
Addressing the committee on the design of the new school, Skye councillor Drew Millar said: “Comments have been made that perhaps the building is an architectural wonder of the 21st century but all the members of the steering group were satisfied with the end product, that it would be functional. With the expansion of Portree this site sits quite nicely where there could be a lot of housing in the future.
“The Margaret Carnegie is historic, I suppose, but it’s an old building and that’s about all the relevance of it. It has an interesting history but the building itself is not really particularly striking.
“I think this is quite a historic moment, one of the biggest steps forward for Gaelic education that Skye has taken and it fits in nicely with the council plan.”
He added: “Going back to the plan, I find it quite disappointing that it’s before this committee because of the objections of the community council. This is welcomed by the vast majority of those who want their children educated through bilingualism and I’d ask members to support it.”
His fellow Skye councillor, Ian Renwick, added that the plans were “welcomed by the vast majority of those on Skye”.
Councillor Margaret Patterson said she thought it was a “tremendous and historic step for the people and the Gaelic language” but added she would not have chosen the building design herself.