West Dunbartonshire Council has undertaken a public consultation around where to build the new Our Lady and St Patrick’s (OLSP) secondary school. To support this process, the Council has produced a proposal document, which summarizes information from an earlier desktop feasibility study they conducted (a copy of which can also be found via the preceding link).
There are two location options shown in the proposal document – one is for the new school to be built on its current site in Castlehill in the West end of Dumbarton. The other proposed location is Posties Park, an area designated as ‘open space’ on the local adopted plan.
The Council’s proposal document should be an impartial, factually-sound and balanced report on the options available, allowing citizens to make a measured decision on which location they favour. Instead, it reads with strong bias towards building the new school on Posties Park, both through evangelizing about the benefits of this site, and by scaremongering about the drawbacks of the alternative site. Consider the language used to introduce each option…
The existing school site is introduced as follows :
“There are often advantages to using existing school sites for the construction of new school buildings….However, there are a number of specific challenges relating to the current OLSP site.”
And this is how the Posties Park site is introduced :
“Posties Park could be an iconic site for a new school building. Its location at the confluence of two rivers with views towards Dumbarton Rock and the town centre would present exciting challenges and opportunities for architects and designers and the new school could become a landmark within Dumbarton.”
You see the difference?
The report begins by telling the reader that Posties Park was the highest scoring site in the desktop feasibility exercise. There is no mention, I noticed, that the BREEAM environmental assessment scored Posties Park lowest of the seven original options, and that the current site scored joint highest. Clearly, the Council decided not to draw attention to that particular fact.
Similarly, the proposal document makes a big deal of the fact that the current school site is undesirable because it is so small, stating :
“…This is evidenced by the fact that the current building is six storeys high, hardly an ideal arrangement for a school.”
I believe that this statement is highly prejudicial and should be taken out of the proposal document altogether. The current school is designed to accommodate 1779 pupils, and that is why it is six storeys high. The new school, wherever it is built, will be designed to accommodate 1000 pupils and will be three storeys high. So the ‘six storeys’ point is moot. This is an example of the scaremongering I referred to above.
The report goes on to suggest that building on the Posties Park site may bring economic benefits to the town (see my blog post about this here), and that it has better transport links, when actually the existing school site is nearer to the train station by some measure. Apparently, councillor Michelle McGinty (formerly Stewart) has some difficulty getting the bus to the existing school to get to parents’ evenings, and this is presumably why point 3.11.9 of the proposal document was included. Perhaps she’d be better placed throwing her weight into a campaign to improve bus links between her locale and the current school, rather than steaming on with her campaign to destroy our local park. Talk about using a hammer to crack a nut…
But anyway, I want to focus a bit on the feasibility study, and the ‘risks and opportunities’ scoring process that forms part of it. It should be stated that this study was undertaken by an apparently impartial third party, JM Architects and that the cost calculations were conducted by Turner & Townsend.
One of the first things to mention is that the original study was based only on three potential sites, and then expanded to include a fourth. This is stated in the introductory section of JM Architects’ report, and is demonstrated in a number of the supporting documents, which focus only on the following sites :
- Carvill site (former Ballantynes distillery – derelict)
- Existing school site
- Notre Dame convent site (derelict)
- Havoc Road site
There is no mention within the document of when Posties Park was added into the study for consideration. However, it seems very clear from the appended supporting documents that Posties was not evaluated to the same level as the four sites above. For example, the appended handwritten progress meeting notes of 14/11/12, which give details and information on roads and transport planning for potential new sites, do not even feature Posties Park, except in the following brief note (shown to include strikeout and all punctuation, including exclamation mark, exactly as on the original document) :
RW advised on his recollection of a previous proposal
RW asked if any consideration had been given to accommodating the school and pitches on the existing Postie’s Park site? CJ replied that this area was not part of the feasibility due to previous investigation works previously carried out by Roads (Jack McAulay + Ronnie Divine) – resulted in very poor ground conditions!”
For your information, ‘RW’ is Raymond Walsh, West Dunbartonshire Council’s Network Management Co-ordinator, and ‘CJ’ is Craig Jardine, the Council’s Corporate Asset Manager (all according to HEEDs organogram here.)
Similarly, the consultation with Scottish Natural Heritage focused only on the original four sites, with Posties being added as a late, and very brief, mention in April this year. This despite that fact that Posties is a green open space, and a site with high ecological value.
But there is one thing that, to me, renders this feasibility study and its entire scoring system obsolete, and that is the fact that, throughout the study process, the Posties site was never evaluated or costed on the basis of needing a footbridge over the River Leven. West Dunbartonshire Council roads team have stated that the Posties plan would be “contingent on the building of a footbridge over the Leven”, saying that planning permission will not be granted without it. However, in the feasibility study, the only proposal that mentioned a footbridge was the Carvill site option. In my opinion, everywhere that the Carvill site was scored down because of the additional cost and work involved in the erection of a footbridge should now be applied to Posties. And let’s not forget the financials. This is the Carvill cost summary :
You’ll see the addition of a £3M footbridge in the cost abnormals, along with quay wall works at an additional £1.2M.
Compare this to the Posties cost summary :
No mention at all of these extra costs in the Posties’ abnormals, making it look just peachy in comparison.
And, look! Only £250,000 allowed for roads and pavements upgrades. Excuse the impending use of double exclamation marks, but pull the other one, WDC!! This site, which is effectively a no-through road past the Levenford Terrace cut-off, and which will undoubtedly need both road widening and traffic management. Only £250K? I found this interesting little guidance document produced by a local authority in England, which gives costing indications for a range of different highway works. It certainly gave me some perspective on how expensive civil engineering works can be. Sadly, it contains no information on bridge erection costs, but that’s a whole other matter and a whole other blog post…
The critical omission of the footbridge throughout the feasibility study should mean that the whole process is re-visited from the start, and the proposal document that WDC are using for this public consultation should have any references to scoring redacted. I’d actually go one further, and say that the feasibility study should be re-done with all of the information that has come from the physical site surveys of Posties Park included. Turner & Townsend should be asked to re-visit the costing summary on the basis of the information that came from the physical site surveys; I’d be prepared to bet that the costings for Posties, with its ‘high risk’ status for unexploded ordinance, gas and heavy metal contamination, groundwater problems, and unfavourable ground conditions will have escalated considerably from the estimates that were made originally by Turner & Townsend. I will blog in more detail about the site survey results, which I got from a Freedom of Information request. Watch this space.
West Dunbartonshire Council will no doubt say that all of these checks and balances will be conducted well in advance of any building work starting. But the problem is that they are asking us, the constituents, to consult on a picture which is, at best, incomplete, and, at worst, totally inaccurate. Our opportunity to comment in this process has come before all the facts are known. That doesn’t seem fair to me.
And I’d like to make one last point about the risk and opportunity matrices contained within the feasibility study. And that is to say that there is something a bit rum about the Posties Park matrix (beside the obvious…) Bear with me, because it’s a bit mind-numbing…
I’ve scrutinized all of these matrices, and they all follow a common format; each line item is scored across four columns for Likelihood, Impact, Risk/Opp Status and Risk/Opp Score. The first four sites all have a report date of 30/11/12 in their header. The Posties Park matrix doesn’t have a date of report shown.
The original four site registers dated 30/11/12 all have every single column filled with a scoring determinant, but the Posties matrix has a lot of gaps in the ‘Likelihood’ and ‘Impact’ columns. For example, in the ‘Alignment with Local Plan‘ line, and in the ‘Any previous objections/public comments‘ line there are no scoring determinants shown. All of this would seem to render the process a good bit less scientific and objective than WDC might have you believe. This might be why, for example, the Posties Park site option scored the highest in the ‘Public Acceptance’ category. Because, of course, 1500 petition signatures and at least 50 local press articles and letters within a 4 month period, all railing against the proposal totally suggests that there is a great deal of public acceptance, right? As far as I’m aware, Posties Park is the only potential site that has a community objection group, and yet the risk and opportunity register reckons that it is the site which will be most acceptable to the public. Go figure.
I want to get to the bottom of all of this, so I’ve made a Freedom of Information request for all versions of the feasibility study, including drafts. I’m sure WDC has a very robust version control system for their documentation, so that shouldn’t present too much of a problem to them. I will report back.
And I’ve also asked the four Dumbarton councillors to dig into another significant inconsistency between the feasibility study and the proposal document. Have a look at the costing summary for the existing school site option :
You’ll see that a sum of £150,000 has been allowed for portacabin requirements (or ‘huts’, as we used to call them) during construction. It’s curious then that this figure has increased by a staggering half a million pounds to £650,000 in the
propaganda proposal document. That’s quite a variance. And remember, this is a school which currently has only 54% occupancy within its six storeys; six storeys, I should add, that will not be affected by construction works on the current site.
I will update this blog in due course with the information that the local councillors have been able to dig up on this particular chapter of the fairy tale. But please be assured that there will be no happy ending unless West Dunbartonshire citizens step up and challenge the Council on matters like this. Please make your thoughts and feelings known. Use the consultation process to tell WDC that Posties Park is ours and, regardless of their efforts to brainwash us, we can spot a tall tale when we see one. Phone, write or email the Council before November 13th 2013 and make sure we save Posties Park from redevelopment.