Friday, 29 March 2013

Ardrossan site for merged school

The site of the current Ardrossan Academy has been selected as the preferred option to accommodate a new educational campus for the Three Towns.

The proposed new facility will result in the merger of Ardrossan Academy with Stevenston’s Auchenharvie Academy.  Two schools for pupils with additional needs – Ardrossan’s James McFarlane School and Haysholm School in Irvine – will also be brought together on the site.

At its meeting on Tuesday (March 26), North Ayrshire Council’s SNP Cabinet is expected to ratify a report naming the Ardrossan location as the site for the new school, although a final decision will not be confirmed until a public consultation has been carried out in relation to the principle of merger and the location of the new facility.  The document to be considered by councillors also outlines how the development will proceed, with plans to decant Ardrossan Academy pupils while the current school is demolished, the site cleared and the new school built.

The Three Towns Campus is expected to be opened in time for the start of the academic year in 2016.

In the report to be presented to the SNP Cabinet, Council officials set-out plans that would see additional car parking at the Ardrossan site provided on the current environmental walkway behind the existing Ardrossan Academy, along the route of the old Caledonian Railway line. 

Officials also state that talks have been held with the War Memorial Trust Committee in relation to using existing car parking at the clubhouse of Ardrossan Academicals Rugby Club.  More controversially, the report for the SNP Cabinet also refers to talks having taken place with the War Memorial Trust Committee regarding the new school’s sports facilities being located on the current Memorial Field adjacent to Ardrossan Academy.  A North Ayrshire Council insider who spoke to the3towns on condition of anonymity stated that the talks had also included the possibility of the local rugby club being provided with a new clubhouse on the corner of Sorbie Road and High Road in order that the existing building could be demolished to provide additional space for the new school’s use.

The decision to locate the new Three Towns facility in Ardrossan would almost certainly be met with anger from Auchenharvie Academy pupils and parents.  Once the Three Towns Campus is opened in 2016, pupils from Stevenston will have to travel to Ardrossan for their secondary education.

The site of the new school, across Laighdykes playing fields from St Matthews Academy, means almost 3,000 pupils will be accommodated in the area on a daily basis.  However, Council officials flag-up the close proximity of St Matthews as a plus-point for the Ardrossan site, arguing this will allow greater shared use of facilities than would be the case if the new school were located at Auchenharvie in Stevenston.

The report for the SNP Cabinet, written by Ms Carol Kirk, Corporate Director – Education and Skills, states that “locating the campus on the Ardrossan Academy site will: provide greater opportunity to strengthen the educational and inter-school links with St Matthew’s Academy; ensure the campus is easily accessible to the greatest number of learners; offer the special school pupils and parents access to a greater number of facilities; create a continuous community hub with the integration of St Matthew’s and Laighdykes community facilities; enhance potential to further develop close links with local sports clubs; offer greater access to the track and field facility at Laighdykes and across a wider range of sporting activities; offer better opportunities to utilise the nearby train service; and therefore deliver a better educational experience for all learners and deliver the greatest overall community benefit.”

If agreed by the Cabinet on Tuesday, Council officers will be instructed to carry out a public consultation on the proposal to merge Ardrossan Academy, Auchenharvie Academy, James McFarlane School and HaysholmSchool, with a new Three Towns Campus located on the site of the current Ardrossan Academy.

Cllr Tony Gurney, SNP Cabinet member for Education, Attainment and Achievement, said, “Providing the best possible education for our children is our highest priority.  The Three Towns Campus is a huge project, which will go a long way towards improving education in the area.”

Acknowledging the proposal would bring change for some pupils, Cllr Gurney said it was therefore important to “speak directly to pupils, parents, staff and the wider public about the plans, and ensure that we take their views on board.”

Tony Gurney indicated he is confident the benefits of the new school will be clear to see, including “greater use of modern technology and improved surroundings, greater choice of subjects available to pupils, and the chance to expand the choice of subjects.”

Cllr Gurney added, “The focus clearly remains on our children’s education.  However, modern schools now provide so much more for the wider community – from leisure facilities to education outwith the 5-18 bracket.

“It is, therefore, important that we speak to the whole community from the very start.  Indeed, we met with parent councils and school staff soon after the decision to develop plans for a Three Towns Campus was approved.  These informal meetings were extremely useful, both in terms of explaining
the benefits and speaking to parents about their priorities for their children.”

A total of five public meetings – open to everyone – are scheduled to be held throughout the local area, starting on May 7.

The estimated cost of the Three Towns Campus project is £42.5m. The Council has committed £20m in its current capital investment programme, with the balance of funding being supplied by the SNP Scottish Government.

Plan to revive Council newspaper

Less than four years after councillors agreed to make an annual saving of £50,000 by scrapping North Ayrshire NOW, the local authorities own newspaper, proposals to reintroduce the publication – at a yearly cost of £96,000 – will be considered at this week’s meeting of the Council’s ruling SNP Cabinet.

The move to scrap North Ayrshire NOW was led by Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol, who argued at the time that the newspaper’s content was little more than publicly-funded propaganda for the then Labour administration.  Cllr McNicol also indicated his belief that the publication was not widely read by the local public, despite the Council paying for it to be delivered to every home in the district.

Subsequently, the Labour administration paid a marketing company £5,500 to carry out a public survey, which reported that 98-percent of respondents “read every part or parts of North Ayrshire NOW”.

However, the3towns subsequently revealed (January 2009) that the Council’s newspaper was delivered to 60,000 households in the area, but the survey findings were based on just 2,506 responses (4.2-percent of North Ayrshire households).  Therefore, 95.8-percent of households that received copies of North Ayrshire NOW did not respond to the survey.

With the Council’s then Labour administration paying a private company £5,500 to carry out the public survey that received just 2,506 responses, the individual cost to the public purse was almost £2.20 per response.

A Motion by Cllr Ronnie McNicol that the Council scrap the three-times a year publication of North Ayrshire NOW was supported by a majority of councillors and the publication has not appeared since 2009.  However, a report to be considered by the Council’s current SNP administration this week argues that a new Council newspaper should be produced, to be published six-times a year at a cost of £96,000, including £41,700 for a new member of staff.

Any decision by the SNP Cabinet requires to be ratified by the full Council and could be called-in for further consideration by the local authority’s Scrutiny Committee.

Katy rebels against attack on the poor

North Ayrshire & Arran’s Katy Clark was one of just seven Labour MPs from Scotland who rebelled against a party Whip instructing them to ‘abstain’ in a vote on the UK Government’s Work Programme, which has forced the unemployed to work for no pay. 

Ms Clark voted against proposals contained in a Bill presented to the House of Commons last Tuesday night.  The Tory-Lib Dem Government sought to back-date a law change that allowed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to avoid having to repay £130m illegally docked from Jobseekers who refused to work full-time hours for no pay in ‘work experience’ schemes.

Last month the Appeal Court in London found in favour of science graduate Cait Reilly and lorry driver Jamieson Wilson who had declined to take part in ‘work experience’ that involved stacking shelves in Poundland discount stores.  The DWP ‘sanctioned’ Ms Reilly and Mr Jamieson by stopping their Jobseekers Allowance, an action the Appeal Court found to be illegal.

The decision by three judges meant the Government was liable to repay all of the money it had docked from claimants who had declined to take part in the Work Programme.  However, the Bill presented to parliament last Tuesday night backdated a change to the law and effectively negated the Appeal Court’s ruling.  The Labour Party’s decision to ‘abstain’ on the vote, save for a few rebels, meant the Bill was passed and Jobseekers who had their benefit cut illegally will not now be compensated.

MPs from the Scottish National Party, Welsh Nationalists Plaid Cymru and the one member from the Green Party voted against the Tory-Lib Dem Government’s backdating of a change to the law.

September 18 2014 - historic day

Local SNP MSP Margaret Burgess says September 18 2014 will be a “historic day” for the people of the Three Towns and the rest of Scotland as the country’s future is decided in the Independence Referendum.

The date of the referendum was announced in the Scottish Parliament last Thursday (March 21) by First Minister Alex Salmond.  Mrs Burgess could be seen immediately behind Mr Salmond in the Parliament debating chamber as the momentous announcement was broadcast live on television.

Speaking later, Margaret Burgess said, “September 18 2014 will be the day when we decide whether to be independent, to make our own decisions and put our great resources to work for the benefit of our communities and to make life better for our people.

"The Scottish Parliament has shown how it can use its limited powers to improve the lives of our people, with free personal care, landmark homelessness legislation and an end to student tuition fees.  But Scotland can do so much more with full economic powers and control over our great natural resources, which will allow us to build a fairer and more prosperous nation.”

The MSP for Cunninghame South added, “It's decision time for Scots.  Do we want an out-dated system that gives us governments we didn't vote for and policies we don’t want, like the Bedroom Tax, or will we vote ‘Yes’ for independence and a parliament answerable only to the people who live here, a parliament with the full independent powers we need to start to building the fairer more prosperous society we all want?”

Mrs Burgess believes “the big decisions that shape our lives should be taken here by the people who live and work in Scotland, and that will only happen by restoring our independence.”

Fund to renovate empty homes

North Ayrshire Council has unveiled a £200,000 scheme to help bring back into use some of the privately-owned homes in the district that are currently lying empty.

Money is available to property owners provided they agree to bring homes up to an acceptable standard within a set timescale, and to then make them available at an affordable rent for at least five years.

A Council spokesperson explained, “The current availability of affordable housing in North Ayrshire significantly outstrips demand.  At the same time, there are an estimated 700 empty homes in North Ayrshire – two-thirds of which have been unoccupied for more than one year.  One-in-ten have been empty for more than five years.

“One-bedroom properties face the biggest demand.  Around a quarter of the empty homes are one-bedroom and would help to reduce the waiting list for these properties.”

The spokesperson said the decision to create a fund followed a survey of property owners in 2012, adding, “More than half of respondents said they would be interested in working with the Council to bring property back into use, with a quarter saying that a grant or loan would help them to achieve this.”

To help address the issue, the local authority has now created the North Ayrshire Empty Homes Loan Fund, supported by a £200,000 loan from the SNP Scottish Government.  Property owners can seek a loan of up £15,000 per empty property.

The Council’s SNP Cabinet member with responsibility for Housing, Cllr Anthea Dickson, said, “We are keenly aware that many local people find it difficult to rent affordable housing.

“Empty homes are a real issue for communities with a waiting list for people who need affordable housing.  We are keen to find ways to maximise the numbers of affordable homes.

"Not only will some of these homes be brought back into use through this initiative, they would also be less likely to attract anti-social behaviour, such as graffiti, fly-tipping and vandalism.”
In order to qualify for a loan under the scheme, homes need to have been empty for more than six months and require work to be carried out to bring them up to a habitable standard.