Friday, 25 October 2013

Schools merger plan savaged by Parent Council



North Ayrshire Council’s plan to create a Three Towns educational campus has been dealt another hammer-blow.

The local authority’s proposal to merge Stevenston’s Auchenharvie Academy with Ardrossan Academy and two schools for children with additional support needs – Irvine’s Haysholm School and Ardrossan’s James McFarlane School – has already been rejected by 77% of respondents to a public consultation.  Now, the3towns can reveal that the Parent Council of Haysholm School has submitted a scathing response to the idea that children with additional needs could be accommodated within a ‘nest’ at the proposed mainstream super-school.

The Haysholm response begins, “We find very concerning that some Council officials, when meeting with parents from other schools involved, are stating that ‘Haysholm Parent Council’ is in favour of the proposal.  We are not, we have never been and we will never be in favour of any amalgamation of Haysholm School within the Three Towns Campus.  We are in favour of enhanced facilities within the current environment or a merge with James McFarlane.”

In response to the Council’s public consultation, 60% of Haysholm parents clearly stated their opposition to the planned merger.

In its new submission to the Council, Haysholm Parent Council flags-up that the local authority’s SNP administration had considered but rejected an option to merge just the two schools for children with additional needs.  Had that option been chosen, the total cost for a state-of-the-art facility would have been £9m, with the Council and the Scottish Government each contributing £4.5m.  The option chosen by the Council – to merge all four schools – comes at a projected cost of £42m (£22m from the Scottish Government and £20m from NAC).

In response to a Council ‘Estate Management Update’ from August 2012, which referred to the proposed merger providing an opportunity to “further consolidate the secondary estate and also allow an opportunity to significantly invest in the Special School Estate to deliver a modern fit for purpose provision for our children, young people, staff and community,” Haysholm Parent Council states, “It does not say this is a Nest within a secondary mainstream school which would cost less and help with their cost-cutting exercise rather than create a standalone modern building that would be fit for purpose and provide a safe, suitable and comfortable learning environment for children and young people with severe and complex additional support needs.

The parents then explain the reason for their opposition to the proposed merger of additional needs children within a mainstream secondary school, “Imagine if you cuddled a teddy bear and, instead of feeling it soft, it was as sharp as needles.  Or you turned on a light and found its buzz unbearably loud and painful.  You’d probably be driven to extreme anxiety.  Everyday life is like this for many children with autism.  They can experience over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.  But through sensory therapy and modification of the environment, their lives can be made more bearable. Our children get this in the present environment.  In the proposed campus, our children would not only have to adjust to a new environment, but also new children, staff, travel times, smells, noise - even without a bell ringing every 55minutes, 1500 children do make noise anyway - and visual stimulation.

“Our autistic children enjoy and rely on routines to help make sense of their daily life and the world around them.  When things change – perhaps the minibus they always travel on has been diverted or is stuck in traffic – this can lead to serious panic attacks.  Think how often things can change around you.  For a child with autism, even the smallest changes can be extremely distressing and confusing.

“Eighty-percent of children and young people with Autism are at greater risk of developing depression and mental health conditions.  Merging them into the new setting is not going to reduce this risk at all.”

Also in the Parent Council document is reference to how the neighbouring local authority, East Ayrshire Council – also SNP-controlled – has taken a different approach to the one proposed by North Ayrshire Council.  The report says, “East Ayrshire Council is providing their most vulnerable pupils with a state-of-the-art modern learning environment, while North Ayrshire Council, for our most vulnerable pupils, is suggesting a mix-match masked by ‘inclusion’ jargon and funds needs.”

Haysholm parents then ask, “If building super-schools was a Scottish Government policy, how is it that East Ayrshire Council has taken a different route,” adding, “Councillor Douglas Reid, SNP Leader of East Ayrshire Council has supported with all the other SNP councillors the building of this new facility for children with Additional Support Needs, yet his SNP counterparts in North Ayrshire are backing a Council official’s proposal that would cause our most vulnerable children untold trauma, anxiety and stress.  Are SNP local policies different from the national ones?”

The Haysholm response to the Council concludes by quoting Cllr Tony Gurney, North Ayrshire’s SNP Cabinet member for Education, who said the local authority’s public consultation had been “extremely valuable” and that the SNP administration would “continue to speak to everyone involved as we seek to find the best possible arrangement for our children.”

However, Haysholm Parent Council replied, “That’s not good enough!  The Three Towns Campus does not meet the needs of children and young adults with complex additional support needs!

The majority of Haysholm’s children and parents are against the proposed amalgamation into the Three Towns School Campus!  Haysholm’s Children are North Ayrshire’s most vulnerable pupils!
Haysholm’s Children are your most vulnerable pupils!”

The Parent Council has sent its response to all 30 North Ayrshire councillors asking, “Please vote against the proposed amalgamation and the creation of the Three Towns School Campus.”

Last week a public meeting organised by Auchenharvie Parent Council also unanimously opposed the proposed schools merger and called on North Ayrshire councillors to vote against the plan when it is considered by the full Council, expected to be at a meeting scheduled for November 7. 

A majority of Ardrossan residents responding to the Council’s public consultation also rejected the plan (56%), despite the town being earmarked for the location of the proposed Three Towns campus.

Of the four schools that would be merged if the plan went ahead, only respondents from James McFarlane School supported the idea (67%).

Shell site development on hold



There was speculation this week that a proposed development of a former oil and bitumen refinery in Ardrossan could be put on hold.

Irvine Bay Regeneration Company sought and received planning consent last May, which would have allowed development on the area of the former Shell-Mex site that has already been decontaminated.  However, the3towns understands that the continuing economic downturn, which has badly affected the construction industry, could see development plans stalled for an indefinite period.  A source indicated the site could now be screened from the road and housing in North Crescent Road by the construction of a 6ft-high ‘earth bund’.

At the time of Irvine Bay’s planning application in May, North Ayrshire Council officials raised questions over the quality of decontamination work undertaken so far, saying in a report, “Only a small section of the former Shell site, closest to North Crescent Road has been decontaminated to date and the decontamination works have now ceased. The decontamination works were being carried out in accordance with a scheme of work agreed with SEPA [Scottish Environment Protection Agency] and the Council's Environmental Health Section and under the terms of a planning permission (10/00483/PP) granted in October 2010. It is the applicant's intention to continue with the investigation and decontamination of additional phases of the site as each development of the adjacent residential phase is being constructed. Environmental Health have requested a condition be attached to the permission to require further information to be provided regarding the investigation and remediation of contaminated material on the site for their approval.”

The consent granted to Irvine Bay and Clydeport, owners of Ardrossan Harbour, allows for a development comprising housing, a nursing home, commercial units, a distributor road and coastal defence works.

Previously, Ardrossan’s Independent councillor John Hunter angrily described the undeveloped site as the town’s “biggest eyesore”.

Construction starts on new health centre



Local MSP Margaret Burgess visited building works in Ardrossan last Thursday (October 17) to ‘officially’ mark the construction phase in the development of a new medical centre for the town.

Also in attendance were North Ayrshire Council leader Willie Gibson and Dr Gerry Norton from the South Beach practice, which will relocate to the new centre once it is complete.  The facility will also accommodate a dental surgery.

Work on the long-awaited health centre, incorporating the building that was formerly Ardrossan’s police station, was stalled repeatedly before clearance of the site finally commenced in September.  Margaret Burgess, MSP for Cunninghame South and also the SNP Scottish Government Minister for Housing and Welfare, was on hand last week to mark the start of the work that will see the transformation of what had long been a semi-derelict site at the entrance to Ardrossan’s harbour regeneration zone.

Mrs Burgess said, “Earlier this year the Scottish Government contributed £2.5million from our ‘shovel ready’ programme to this project.  

 “Bringing this formerly derelict site back into use as a doctors’ surgery and healthcare centre is a great example of how buildings can be regenerated to provide vital services for the local area.  This facility will not only breathe new life into the town centre but will also improve medical services for residents of Ardrossan.”

The new health centre is scheduled to be completed by May of next year.

Council seek advice on Polling Places



North Ayrshire Council is looking for the views of local people on where they should vote at future UK parliamentary elections, should Scots reject independence in next year’s referendum.
Two UK Parliamentary constituencies are covered by North Ayrshire Council - North Ayrshire & Arran and Central Ayrshire.
Eligible voters are being asked to comment on existing arrangements and to suggest possible changes, including to polling places.  In particular, the Council is looking for feedback from older people and disabled residents in relation to the ease of access to polling places.
Council Chief Executive Elma Murray explained, “In making arrangements for elections we aim to put the voter first.
“The Council seeks to ensure the locations of polling places are convenient for voters and there is adequate provision for polling stations across North Ayrshire.  No one should have to travel too far to reach their polling place, or queue too long to cast their vote.   
“We want to hear the views of voters on how easy, or otherwise, they find it to cast their votes in person on polling day.  We are especially keen to ensure the particular needs of disabled people and elderly voters are met.  We will consider all representations and then form proposals for future elections.”
Residents can make their own suggestions for alternative polling places, and the reasons for doing so, by writing to: Diane McCaw, North Ayrshire Council (Third Floor), Cunninghame House, Irvine KA12 8EE or by e-mail to elections@north-ayrshire.gov.uk  The closing date for submissions is Friday, November 29 2013.

Last month Ms Murray presented a report to councillors recommending polling arrangements that caused chaos at last year’s local government election should remain in place for the Scottish Independence Referendum and European Elections, both of which will held in 2014.

Plan ahead for winter weather



Get ready for winter – that’s the message from North Ayrshire Council as staff begin to prepare for the possibility of severe weather over the next few months.

A Council spokesperson advised that “Taking precautions now can save a lot of trouble should temperatures plummet.

“Our roads team will be on weather-watch from October 24 until April 10 next year – or even longer if we’re shivering into spring.  A squad of 40 drivers will be on call 24/7 during the cold spell to keep the gritters and snow ploughs on the road.  The Council’s fleet of 17 multi-purpose vehicles includes seven new models purchased in the last year to replace those that had reached the end of their working life.

“Our drivers have been out on a ‘dry run’ in preparation for severe weather, checking out equipment and vehicles and familiarising themselves with routes.”

Some 10,000 tonnes of road salt will be stocked at North Ayrshire’s two main storage depots – 8,000 tonnes at Goldcraigs in Kilwinning and 2,000 tonnes at Brodick on Arran, which is more than double the amount held during the gritting shortage that hit the whole of the country in 2010.  Salt is also stored at strategic points throughout North Ayrshire for use by residents, with 400 street bins and 13 larger community bins from which people can collect salt for personal use on roads, driveways or footpaths.

The Council spokesperson said, “Weather forecasts are relayed three times a day - literally morning, noon and night – to the roads team who use the information to determine whether or not a snow and ice alert is issued.  All the latest road updates are posted on the Council website periodically.”

Scotland Transerv is responsible for any issues on trunk roads in the area (A78, A737 and A738) and can be contacted on 0141 218 3800.

Meanwhile, North Ayrshire Council now has a one-stop helpline number that tenants can use for information and to report emergencies - 01294 310000 – which operates day and night, every day of the year.

The local authority’s SNP Cabinet member for Environment and Infrastructure, Cllr John Bruce, said, “Winter throws up many challenges for us all but we can overcome these by working together.

“I am confident that North Ayrshire Council has the right resources and the necessary experience to tackle the worst of the weather.  I would urge motorists and householders to take heed of the very sound advice issued by both the Council and the Scottish Government.  These precautions will prepare us for the very worst of conditions should the country be affected as it was a few years back.”

Cllr Bruce added, “Of course, I’m hoping that we avoid much of the misery of past winters and the weather remains mild this time round.”