Terry’s Big Propaganda Extravaganza!

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…”

montgomery_burns

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…

IMG_9789a

Traffic chaos on Woodyard Road

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Traffic chaos on Woodyard Road

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…

Posties boundary

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.

– MAx

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9 thoughts on “Terry’s Big Propaganda Extravaganza!

  1. Well said! Thank god someone is there listening and reporting the facts as they actually are and doing some spectacular myth-busting at the same time. If this development goes ahead there should be an immediate appeal and call for an inquiry from the highest levels of Scottish Government.

    • Thanks Cat. We’re so lucky to have a couple of really motivated community councils here, and you can rest assured we’ll all be keeping fighting this to the last blow.

  2. Your reporting of the event is extremely accurate. I wondered, when reading the Reporter today, if there had been two meetings at OLSP and I had missed one! The use of microphones to control the speakers was genius, so I’m sure it couldn’t have been Terry’s idea!

    • Thanks clydesider. Terry Lanagan is obviously a clever man, which makes it even more frustrating that he’s not applying his efforts to trying to find a workable solution that doesn’t involve the destruction of Posties. I’m angry at him for that, but I’m equally angry at the empty suits that are (some of) our elected representatives. Why are they letting this happen? Why aren’t they demanding more from the Education Services team, Roads, HEEDS etc.

      I thought that the suggestion that came from the audience about modifying the plan for the current site by putting the parking for the school, and potentially even a second pitch, on the other side of Cardross Road at the old convent site was a really good one. It’s not in council ownership at the moment, but I’m fairly sure that the cost to purchase it would be considerably less than the £3M needed for a footbridge. However, as long as Posties remains in the running, I feel that the Council won’t even consider potential alternatives. It’s really frustrating. There’s a complete absence of any kind of creative thinking because they’re all so intent on building on Posties.

      And finally, I was, like you, a bit surprised to read the Reporter’s coverage today, especially under the banner ‘Director of Education answers critics’. Although there was a good summary of Rose Harvie’s statement, I thought that a lot of column inches were given over to simply reproducing TL’s propaganda, especially by quoting the overzealous teacher, “If my children went here there (sic) chances would be dramatically reduced if the new school was built on the current site.” Really? Dramatically reduced chances? I’m worried by how little faith teachers have in their own abilities to overcome some minor environmental challenges. Surely a pupil’s chances have more to do with the skills of their teachers than whether or not they’ve got a temporary dining hall for a couple of years?

      • I totally understand your frustration. There is such a feeling of “done deal” that makes all reasonable argument feel futile. The old convent site seems logical, however, after the propaganda against the current site, it would be difficult to sell the idea. I can’t understand why the proposer of the project on Postie’s should have been allowed to chair the consultation. What is a consultation? Is it, “I’ll tell you what I’ve decided, then you can like it or lump it”?
        I work in education, I’ve been told to “follow the party line” in previous consultations.
        This is more than a personal view. This is about the future of our town. Our legacy. I have grandchildren. I want them to be able to enjoy unspoilt nature. As for “the Mony” being “the only green space for the children of Castlehill”, the Postie’s belongs to those children too. How short-sighted can some people be?
        I will continue to support the campaign, through personal correspondence, through the community council and through your blog.

  3. I am a WDC teacher and I feel so disappointed that I have been pushed down the route of choosing between the current site and saving a vital place for the people of Dumbarton.

    Sitting in that hall at the meeting and listening to an experienced teacher accusing people like me of not caring about education was difficult to take. As a former pupil of OLSP, I could feel the respect I previously had for her rapidly draining away.

    I know a lot of the Dumbarton based teachers at OLSP and know that many of them do not want Posties destroyed.

    I also know many of the parents too, and with the exception of the Castlehill residents who obviously feel aggrieved that they will have the new school build on their doorstep, the only other parents supporting building at Posties were Vale/Balloch residents with no attachment to our dear green place. All the other Dumbarton based parents at that meeting were totally against the idea of building on Posties.

    I can’t say much more but what I will say is that I am struggling to disagree with many of the points you have made in this blog.

    I wrote one of the 34 letters you mentioned. As a resident of Dumbarton, of course, not as a WDC employee.

    Here is a reminder of the views of this Dumbarton resident, who has chosen to dedicate his life to the vocation of teaching the young people of this wonderful town.

    LENNOX HERALD

    Dear Editor,

    So our only true place of escape from the buzz of the town and the chaos of our daily lives is on the verge of being taken away from us if WDCs proposed plan to build the new OLSP at Posties Park is given the go ahead.

    Levengrove Park and its surrounding open spaces, particularly Posties, offer peace and tranquility to so many as well as stunning views towards Dumbarton Rock. Therefore, I am really struggling to understand why anyone would even contemplate placing one brick down on this cherished piece of land.

    WDC must be complimented for delivering so many new build schools in recent years, which will undoubtedly have educational benefits for our young people. However the thought of another steel and concrete building, like those of the two newly built secondaries, being constructed on Posties Park fills me with dread.

    Furthermore, I am also struggling to understand how the shops on our high street would benefit. I believe that the £3 million bridge would only serve to be a shortcut to either the town centre’s fast food outlets or the supermarkets and fast food chains of St James Retail Park.

    It is an indisputable fact that there are copious amounts of litter discarded by a number of pupils in and around our local secondaries on a daily basis. This is a problem that will not go away overnight. So the thought of pupils walking around the Levengrove area at lunchtime and discarding the remnants of their lunch must be given great consideration.

    Without Posties and a peaceful, pristine Levengrove then Dumbarton loses a big part of its identity and any last remaining hint of character it has left.

    Andrew McFall
    Dumbarton

    • Thanks Andrew.

      You must be proud to work in WD education – the area seems to punch well above its weight in terms of performance and results. That’s part of the reason why I can’t understand the OLSP teachers’ hysteria, and why they’re letting everyone think that the kids of OLSP are going to be facing years of disadvantage if the school is built on the current site. I never heard Dumbarton Academy teachers saying that at any point during the construction.

      However, it’s a relief to hear that not all of the OLSP teachers are drinking the Kool-aid. I have every confidence that, in the face of some challenges, those teachers would step up and work hard to make sure pupils experience no disadvantage.

      Of course, there’s a distinct appeal in the idea of having an off-site turnkey build, and I can’t blame teachers for desiring that. But I can, and do, blame some of them for their complete disregard of the views of the wider community in which they work and for setting a very poor example to their pupils on environmental issues, citizenship and debating skills.

      A WD teacher told me this week that, in education circles, Mr. Lanagan’s word is final, and that it is widely perceived that it is not good for one’s career to disagree with him, publicly or otherwise. If that is the case, then, again, I have some sympathy for teachers under him. But I also know that he’s had his nose bloodied previously by teachers and parents over CfE, so they must know that he’s not invincible.

      I think that, collectively, we can overcome Mr Lanagan and his plan to destroy Posties Park. So far all he’s done is write up the Posties plan, and then throw in a half-baked alternative, coupled with a tonne of rhetoric to try and ensure that everybody opts for Posties. Well, I think we should demand that he earns his £100k+ salary by drawing up a proper plan for the school that doesn’t include Posties Park. Our education system isn’t a dictatorship. Terry Lanagan isn’t God. Why should his voice carry more weight than thousands of WD citizens? Of course, it shouldn’t.

      Thanks again for taking time to comment. Best of luck with your ongoing campaign.

      – MAx

      • Thanks Max,

        Although I disagree with Mr Lanagan, I do have a lot of respect for him in terms of his work in education and I have never felt unjustly treated by him. I just want to make that clear.

        I do however hold very different views from him on this issue.

        I am commenting as a resident.

        All the best

        Andrew

  4. The insanity must stop now. Posties is not the place for the new school. Parents and pupils deserve better and should demand an appropriate site be bought for the new school. After all, the money is there in the bridge , road widening etc savings!

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