Friday, 4 April 2014

Campaign group helps schools and charities

The Ayrshire Hospice and Saltcoats primary schools have benefitted from the winding-up of a local campaign group.

Members of the Saltcoats-based Laighdykes Residents Group recently decided to disband the organisation, which was formed around 10 years ago to fight North Ayrshire Council’s plan to build a school on Laighdykes playing fields, the main sports pitches used by residents of Saltcoats and Ardrossan. Although the then Labour-run Council pressed ahead with the project that saw St Andrews Academy demolished and replaced by the much larger St Matthews Academy, the campaign run by the Laighdykes Residents Group is recognised as one of the most high-profile and best-run ever seen in the local area.

At the final meeting of the Group, it was proposed that funds remaining in a specially-created bank account should be used to benefit Saltcoats school children and to help the work of the Ayrshire Hospice. In addition, two youth organisations and two locally-operating charities were also nominated to receive financial donations.

The Group purchased shields, which were presented to each of the primary schools in Saltcoats. The individual schools are free to award the shields on an annual basis to acknowledge achievement by a pupil in any field. It was also decided to donate £250 each to the Ardrossan Sea Cadets, the Air Training Corps, North Ayrshire Cancer Patient Transport and the Salvation Army. The remainder of the Group’s finances was forwarded to the Ayrshire Hospice, with the Clydesdale Bank deciding to match the donation pound-for-pound.

As part of the campaign attempting to stop construction on the local playing fields, the Laighdykes Residents Group organised a march attended by hundreds of local people, and petitioned the Scottish Parliament calling on the then Labour-Lib Dem Scottish Executive to “review existing planning procedures and guidance to ensure that they are sufficient to prevent local authorities from using playing field land for development purposes.” The Group was also instrumental in securing a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the subject of ‘Laighdykes Playing Fields’.

Despite overwhelming public support for the aims of the campaign, the Labour administration of North Ayrshire Council ignored all opposition and pressed ahead with its highly-controversial Schools PPP Project. Using the now discredited Public Private Partnership method of funding the construction of four schools, including St Matthews, Labour councillors agreed a contract that will cost local taxpayers at least £380m over 30 years: the actual value of the four schools, when new, was just £80m.

The Laighdykes Residents Group revealed, at the time, that the Council had actually received just one credible and viable bid for its contract to build the schools, meaning that a core element of the bid process – that there must be genuine competition – had not been achieved.

At the first elections to North Ayrshire Council following the local authority’s decision to ignore public opinion and press ahead with building a new school on the local playing fields, Ronnie McNicol and John Hunter, two members of the Laighdykes Residents Group, were elected as Independent councillors. Both Mr McNicol and Mr Hunter were re-elected in 2011.

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