the3towns understands that North Ayrshire Council is set to announce it will press ahead with plans to construct a new secondary school in Ardrossan.
Despite strong and continuing public opposition, the SNP-run local authority intends to create a Three Towns campus by merging Stevenston’s Auchenharvie Academy with Ardrossan Academy: two schools for pupils with additional needs – Ardrossan’s James McFarlane School and Irvine’s Haysholm School – will also be accommodated at the new facility.
The proposal has been mired in controversy since the3towns revealed officials from North Ayrshire Council had met with representatives of Ardrossan Academicals Rugby Club regarding the possibility that part of the club’s facilities could be used by the new school, which was originally earmarked to be built on the existing Ardrossan Academy site. The Accies is located on adjacent land directly across from Ardrossan Academy on Sorbie Road. Controversy deepened when it was further revealed the Council was considering an option to build the new school on the Accies’ Memorial Field, with the rugby club then moving across onto the site of the current Ardrossan Academy.
In addition, the3towns disclosed that Cllr Willie Gibson, Leader of North Ayrshire Council’s SNP administration, is a member of Ardrossan Academicals Rugby Club and, until recently, had been a Trustee of the Memorial Field. Another councillor, Labour Group Leader Peter McNamara, has confirmed meeting with representatives of the club but declined to reveal what had been discussed, saying only that he had attended in a personal capacity.
It has also now emerged that at a meeting on June 6 2013, the South West Hub Territory Partnering Board – the organisation tasked by North Ayrshire Council to procure its capital projects – noted that a “request for Strategic Services” had been issued in relation to plans to build the new Three Towns campus and a similar development in the Garnock Valley. The minute of the South West Hub meeting states, “It has been agreed to run this competitively across the 3 Tier 1 Contractors,” and referred to the process of appointing “a T1 D&B [design and build] contractor”. The Hub meeting took place a week before the closing date of North Ayrshire Council’s public consultation on its announced plan to merge Auchenharvie and Ardrossan Academies on a site in Ardrossan. The Council was represented at the Hub meeting by Yvonne Baulk, Head of Finance & Property.
Former pupils of Ardrossan Academy are also now voicing opposition to the plan that could see a school built on the Memorial Field. Minutes of the August meeting of Saltcoats Community Council record a member of the public stating, “The Memorial Field was purchased, in part, by pupils and parents of Ardrossan Academy in memory of those who died securing our freedom and should remain as such.” The name ‘Memorial Field’ stems from an initiative to keep alive the memory of former Ardrossan Academy pupils who died fighting for their country.
The Community Council minutes also express concern over the possibility that public money could be used “for private enterprise” – the Accies being a private club – “especially when NAC has had to cut back on so many more deserving services”.
The Parent Council of Auchenharvie Academy has strongly opposed the Council’s merger plan, particularly in relation to the proposed new facility being located in Ardrossan, which would mean the closure of Stevenston’s only secondary school and pupils having to travel to a Three Towns campus on a site in Ardrossan not directly served by a bus route.
North Ayrshire Council’s Cabinet member for Education, Ardrossan councillor Tony Gurney, previously told the3towns, “I am firmly in favour of upgrading our school facilities.”
The SNP councillor also explained the idea of possibly building the new school on the Memorial Field’s rugby pitches had first been suggested by a member of the public at a consultation meeting held in Ardrossan Academy last May. Cllr Gurney said that, following the meeting, he “instructed officers to explore whether there is mutual benefit in building a new campus on the Memorial Field,” adding, “I would only consider any such proposal on the strict understanding that the current Academy site be immediately returned to public space with no net reduction in green space caused by a new campus.”