£54m Highlands school investment plan proposed

£54m Highlands school investment plan proposed

An investment plan which includes proposals of up to £54 million capital funding for five Highland schools will go before councillors next week for agreement.

The Highland Council has identified significant capital funding for investment in five schools, Culloden Academy, Beauly, Dunvegan and Park Primary Schools and St Clement’s School to address the vast and ageing school estate, roll pressures and depopulation.

Outline estimates have been prepared at this stage and more detailed work will be undertaken over the summer. The detailed designs and costings will be brought to the council in September for approval for the schools which have already been identified for investment in the council’s capital plan.

An estimated additional cost of £8m to £9m is required which will create capacity to circa 2028/2029 for Culloden Academy, on top of funding agreed as part of the current capital programme.

Approved Phase 1 development will only partially address significant suitability and condition issues at Beauly and Dunvegan Primaries. As set out in the report to the council in June 2019, whole campus redevelopment is required with benefits accruing if the entire project is done as a single phase.

Whilst there is an estimated additional cost of around £12.5m - £15m, this could reduce by as much as £2.5m if Scottish Government Gaelic funding can be secured for Dunvegan. The school is also part of a master plan which includes housing and a sports field which should further support the project costs for the school build.

Beauly is one of the region’s oldest schools and has some seriously substandard buildings and needs a build for a new nursery.

A replacement school for Park Primary and a long term strategic approach to education provision for all early years and primary in Invergordon is estimated to be in the region of £14m to £17m, with partial mitigation from insurance.

The school facilities at St Clement’s School do not adequately support the delivery of education and overall the accommodation is currently rated “C – (Poor)” for both condition and suitability. Project progression is dependent on the outcome of site assessments, and statutory consultation. The estimated cost for a new school would be expected to be in excess of £13m.

As part of the approved March 2018 capital programme, a number of unfunded priority education projects were identified. Since that time a number of those projects have now been incorporated into the reprofiled January 2021 capital programme including Tain 3-18 Campus, included in the Learning Estate Investment Programme (LEIP) Phase 1; Broadford Primary School, included in LEIP Phase 2; a replacement for Nairn Academy, included in LEIP Phase 2; Beauly and Dunvegan Primary Schools with funding approved in 2019 for Phase 1 of new builds; and Kiltearn Primary School with funding approved in 2019 for an extension/ refurbishment project.

In addition to the educational priorities above, there are other significant investments required within the education estate, including:

  • Fortrose, Tarradale, and Alness Primary Schools - further priority schools capital investment was agreed previously in March 2018 and June and August 2019;
  • New Primary Schools at Stratton and Tornagrain: Required by either 2026/27 or 2027/28.
  • New Secondary School at East Inverness: Required by either 2027/28 or 2028/29 (and/or significant further investment in existing schools).
  • Gaelic Provision in Inverness: A feasibility study will be undertaken to consider opportunities to expand 3-18 GME provision in Inverness. Initial funding of £4m has been provided by the Scottish Government, with the potential to bid for additional funding in the future, subject the outcome of the study.

A review of the roll pressures and funding streams and a review of school catchment areas across all schools in Inverness will be carried out to help to inform the strategic approach, potential options and timescales for all the priorities.

Chair of the education committee, Cllr John Finlayson, said: “Good facilities and a safe learning environment is fundamental for the education of all our young people across the Highlands and a key priority for this Administration.

“This funding is excellent news for parents and pupils and everyone in these five communities. Approval of such significant investment will be the culmination of long-awaited hopes and dreams of very many people in these towns and villages and by progressing these priorities, we enable other school projects to move forward and become a reality.

“We will be communicating with parents to let them know of the next steps in the detailed planning process.”

Leader of the council, Cllr Margaret Davidson, said: “The priority education projects are among a wide range of capital investments we are proposing.

“We are also planning additional spending on our road infrastructure and estate, waste strategy, ICT refresh, digital transformation and fleet. Detailed proposals will be brought back to Council in October as part of the wider work looking at the capital plan.

“In addition to the phenomenal investment we announced in March for roads, visitor management, an economic prosperity fund, and money for Wards for local issues and priorities, we are proposing a further £10M for investment in our communities.

“Our investment plans take into account the need for medium term financial sustainability and keeping sufficient non ear-marked Reserves to mitigate against future risks and uncertainty, whilst investing in Recovery.”

Depute leader, Cllr Alasdair Christie, added: “Our Health and Prosperity Plan is part of a targeted response to the impacts of the pandemic on individuals, families, communities and businesses. The report coming to Council evidences a number of benefits already streaming from the first phase of funding. Tangible improvements can already be seen in the busy roads repairs programme underway, parking, waste and tourism assets and the recruitment of new Rangers. Good progress is also being made on the delivery of the Economic Prosperity Fund Programme.

“Phase 2 of the Health and Prosperity Plan would see a further £10m invested in roads and infrastructure, environment and climate change, communities, amenities and in our people and assets.”

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