Fears for future of Mearns Community Centre

RESIDENTS of Laurencekirk and the surrounding area are fully supportive of the plan to build a new Mearns Academy, but it is clear that there is a groundswell of opinion against losing the extremely busy and centrally-located community centre once the new school comes into being.

At Monday’s meeting of Mearns Community Council, chairman David Nelson reported on the recent school stakeholders meeting.

He said there had been an update from the architect and a look at the proposed layout of the building.

Mr Nelson said two key things emerged. Firstly the ground upon which it is proposed to build the new school has still not been purchased.

“This was confirmed by the head of education and the timeline is very tight.”

Secondly there has been no firm decision taken about the disposal of or future use of other council facilities in the town such as the community centre, the Burgh Buildings and the St Laurence Hall.

“Everything is up for grabs, but it seems certain that the public library will relocate to the library in the academy.”

Jim Stuart commented: “There is concern about the community centre and a resistance to it disappearing. Could it be retained?”

He added that elderly people could not be expected to walk out to the north end of town to the new school.

Provost Bill Howatson said: “It was always intended to have community facilities in the new school, but that has to be judged against cost.

“There will be work done very soon to see where we go. The community centre is a valued asset and is very well used.

“There will be widespread public consultation during the planning application procedure. Everything has to be balance against cost.”

The Provost confirmed that the land for the school had not yet been bought but said there have been discussions between the seller, his agent and the council and he believed they were nearly at the external valuation stage.

Mearns Area Partnership chair Susie Brown said MAP would be involved in the community engagement regarding the community centre at a later date.

Councillor George Carr said: “We need to be vigilant here and make sure what we have is not compromised. There may not be enough in the first phase of the new school for the community facilities that are needed.”

Mr Nelson concluded: “No firm conclusions can be drawn at this stage, but we must urge everyone to have their say when the consultation takes place.”

Later in the meeting, Mr Nelson reported on the proposed cuts being brought in by Aberdeenshire Council, which were discussed at the Community Council Forum.

The chairman said: “There will be savings in every single department.

“The council is looking for savings of 10% which is £250 per head of population.

“It was disturbing to be given a list of things which will be directly affected.

“Classroom assistants and visiting specialists in schools are being phased out. Swimming pool hours are being cut, there are no more village orderlies and grass verges will only be cut once a year.

“There will also be a 10% saving across roads and infrastructure. In effect no single area of service delivery will be unaffected.

“The council are looking for more assets to be transferred to the community for us to run them ourselves.”

Councillor Carr reminded members that Aberdeenshire is under-funded by 13% or £60 million and it was stressed that this under-funding had been going on for the last 15 years.