No “hiccup” in Mearns Academy land purchase

THERE should be “no hiccup” in completing the purchase of the land for the new Mearns Academy, Provost Bill Howatson has informed Mearns Community Council.

The apparent failure of Aberdeenshire Council to conclude a deal for the land led to some nervousness among residents and community council members that it was getting dangerously close to time for the project to get started.

Provost Howatson made enquiries of Head of Property and Facilities Management Allan Whyte and was told: “Officers have reached a point in negotiations with the landowner that would suggest a deal for council to acquire the site is increasingly likely.

“We are seeking clarification on certain planning aspects. Once we have obtained this it is expected that agreement on site acquisition will follow shortly thereafter.”

Members were told that a consultation meeting on the new academy was due to be held on Wednesday of this week.

This was a pre-application meeting which will look at the application and give everyone a chance to have their views recorded.

Many people were expected to attend the meeting, not to debate the community facilities to be provided within the new-build, but to stress that they do not want the exisiting community centre to close once the new school opens.

Councillor George Carr said there had been a meeting of staff from the local community centre, library and sports facilities, which was also part of the consultation.

“It is important that the views of staff are obtained and put to the architect at the design stage.

“It is vital that all communication channels are set up in order to establish what opportunities may or may not be possible within the new building.”

Alan Mowat said he did not wish to be paranoid, but he had to question whether the forthcoming election result might affect the academy project.

Provost Howatson said: “There can never be an absolute guarantee, but the money is committed through the Scottish Futures Trust, so I think it is a far-flung risk.”

Mr Mowat observed that the new Alford Academy is getting a swimming pool.

“Is this fair? Alford has three pools within a 15 mile radius and a population just 100 or so more than Laurencekirk. If the council cannot afford a pool in Laurencekirk, how can they afford one in Alford?”

Councillor Carr explained that the two situations were very different. At Alford land deals had been done and assets realised.

Provost Howatson said: “The schools are being financed by a different mechanism, but we have not said that Laurencekirk will never get a pool. The additional cost of a pool would be punishing in terms of resources.

“The SFT said they would finance a new school on a like for like basis and they never entertained thoughts of a pool.

“With new houses being built and planning gain, we may get something further down the track. I hope we can start building in the summer of next year and that the school will be completed on budget. We are in a good position, so let us get on with it.”