Wednesday night was the long-awaited Our Lady and St Patrick’s (OLSP) consultation meeting. This meeting was, in theory, an opportunity for interested parties to review and debate in public the two options for the siting of the new secondary school in West Dunbartonshire – the current school site versus Posties Park. However, in practice, what we ended up with was…
‘Terry’s Big Propaganda Extravaganza!’
Terry Lanagan, the Executive Director for Education in West Dunbartonshire, chaired the meeting. Given that he is a self-declared ambassador for the destruction of Posties Park, the meeting was nothing short of a crafty stratagem for him to promote his manifesto.
It all started okay, following the same form as the recent meeting about the Bellsmyre schools, with Mr. Lanagan providing an overview of the process and the legislative framework. But immediately following this, the propaganda campaign started. We were shown architects’ drawings of both sites, and these were used as a means of telling the audience how much of a health and safety hazard construction at the existing site could be. It was a truly first-class bit of scaremongering. Yet, a similar question about the health and safety risks of children crossing a footbridge over a fast-flowing river to get to Posties Park every day was completely rebutted by Mr. Lanagan. He blithely pointed out that there is a river to the rear of the Vale of Leven Academy, and that this has not resulted in any major incidents with pupils. Of course, he didn’t mention that the VOLA pupils don’t have to cross this river every day, or that it’s fully fenced off from the school.
Mr. Lanagan asked the audience for credit for his adherence to the facts. But bald facts, without any interrogation or analysis, can often be extremely misleading. Equally, the omission of facts, as in the example above, can paint a very misleading picture. At the meeting, members of the public were only allowed to speak when they were given a microphone by one of the meeting administrators – and the opportunity for counter-questioning or rebuttal from the audience was very often denied. With over 200 people in the room and lots of them keen to have their voices heard it was obviously necessary to apply some conditions around who could speak and when, but this meant that the flow of debate was significantly restricted. Terry Lanagan used this to his distinct advantage, refusing to acknowledge anyone who offered a comment off-mike and, in fact, disparaging anyone who tried with eye-rolling and head-shaking. At some points, Terry Lanagan looked positively dismissive of audience contributions, so much so that Him Indoors, who was sitting beside me, leaned over to me and asked, “When is he going to say, Smithers, release the hounds…”
There were so many examples of blatant bias from Mr. Lanagan on Wednesday night that this blog would end up like a thesis if I tried to list them all. Instead, I’m going to publish my top three of his mootable ‘statements of fact’, and, in the fullness of time, we can look back and see exactly how many of them proved true, or not…
1. “Posties Park is perfectly suitable for construction.”
I was gobsmacked when Mr. Lanagan made the comment above to refute the gentleman who tried to raise a point about the very widely acknowledged geotechnical issues at Posties Park. Despite the fact that WDC’s own surveyors, Ramboll UK, have published an extensive document about the potential risks and hazards of this site, Terry, it seems, knows better. Despite the fact that his podium-mate, Craig Jardine, is quoted in the feasibility report as saying that site investigations had ruled Posties Park out for construction due to “…very poor ground conditions!” Well, again we must assume that Terry knows better. An educationalist AND a geotechnical expert to boot. Who knew?
2. All construction at Posties Park will come in within the £22.5M capital budget allocated for the school.
I haven’t put this one in quotation marks, as I’ve paraphrased a much longer quotation, in which Mr. Lanagan stated that building on the current school site would require an additional £950,000 over the £22.5M budget for construction, but Posties Park would not require any additional funding. Oh, except the pesky £3M for the footbridge. So, let’s see…that makes him an educationalist, a geotechnical expert AND a clairvoyant. There’s no end to this man’s talents, it seems.
Mr. Lanagan made this claim about costs and budgets just shortly after his colleague, Craig Jardine admitted that he didn’t know any costs, nor indeed any details of the plan for the roads and infrastructure changes to the area to allow for school traffic to access the site. I’ll give you a step for a hint with this – the changes will need to be significant. Here are a couple of pictures of Woodyard Road last weekend when there was a running event being held at Posties…
Woodyard Road is narrow and winding and not remotely suitable for the volume of traffic that would accompany a 1000 pupil high school, never mind the heavy plant and machinery that would be required during the construction phase. The junction onto Bridge Street is such a tight turn that anything larger than a family car has to swing onto the wrong side of the road to get round. And with a bridge parapet on one side and a block of flats on the other, I’d imagine that civil engineers will have to get extremely creative to get around that problem. And ‘creative’ usually equals ‘expensive’ in engineering terms. Never fear though, Terry’s on the job so we should all just suspend our disbelief as he knows better than all the experts combined.
3. “The lower part of Posties Park will be left as it is, and is not part of the development.”
This was another bold statement from Mr. Lanagan, and another one which evidence suggests is unlikely to prove true. Despite trying to deny it at first, he was eventually forced to admit that the site boundary for the school development incorporates the whole of Posties Park, as is seen in his own feasibility report drawing…
Accompanying this map of the site is a statement that says, ‘School takes ownership of the site, with room for future expansion‘. Well that certainly seems to contradict Terry’s promise. We’ve also heard Martin Rooney, the Council leader, openly saying in the local press that he has no qualms about developing the whole of Posties Park and not only building a school there, but also a super care home. So, with the Council leader’s endorsement for wholesale development, who knows what the scale of the final project will be?
As well as the propaganda presentation, there were also a couple of noticeable procedural variances between the Bellsmyre schools consultation meeting at the beginning of the month, and the OLSP meeting. At the Bellsmyre meet, a register was taken of everyone who attended, along with a brief note of their interest in the process – an action which Terry Lanagan described as a “very important part of the consultation record”. But no register was taken on Wednesday night. Similarly, at the Bellsmyre event, Mr. Lanagan took a vote at the end of the meeting to show how the audience was split. But no vote was taken at the OLSP meeting. The omission of these actions, which would have effectively evidenced the scale of the Save Posties Park campaign, demonstrates clearly that a biased Chair is the enemy of democracy.
Terry Lanagan’s closing gambit was a veiled message to the elected representatives in the audience. He said that this is a consultation and not an election, as if to reassure Councillors that they need not heed the scale of the objection to developing Posties Park. By body-swerving a vote, and by ensuring that there was a smattering of loud and hyperbolic teachers in the audience, he probably managed to convince the Labour Councillors that their consciences are unblemished in their support of his plan.
Well, they might be sleeping like babies right now, but their chickens will well-and-truly come home to roost come election time if they steam through with this ridiculous and hugely unpopular plan. They should read even a couple of pages of the comments on the Save Posties Park online petition if they want to get a handle on what the public think.
So this is my challenge to our Councillors : Come on! We’re not taken in by Terry Lanagan and his propaganda campaign, and neither should you be. Listen to the voice of the people you work for, and start asking some hard questions of the people who work for you. Read and critically analyse the documents that Mr. Lanagan’s department are producing and really ask yourself if he should be stating with impunity that one site is “vastly inferior” to the other, during a consultation process which is supposed to be impartial and balanced. Prove that you are a public servant and, above all, prove that you have the capacity for independent thought. I didn’t vote for Terry Lanagan, none of us did. Don’t let the tail wag the dog in West Dunbartonshire.