God moves in mysterious ways, by all accounts. And whether you believe it was God, Mother Nature or L Ron Hubbard, somebody sure sent down a clear message to West Dunbartonshire Council (WDC) yesterday. A message in the form of a significant tidal surge, which flooded Dumbarton Quayside and Posties Park, where WDC recommend that a new secondary school should be built, sent just five days before Councillors take a vote on the recommendation. As people came to the area to gaze at the newly submerged world, the most frequently uttered phrase was, “The Council want to build a school here? Are they mad?!”
That the area all around the River Leven, including Posties Park, is a functional floodplain is not denied, even by Terry Lanagan, the man who made the recommendation to build a school there. However Mr. Lanagan, Executive Director for Education for WDC, scoffs at this problem, stating in his recommendation report :
“Concerns about the ground conditions at Posties Park have been over-stated based on available evidence. Only the upper part of the park would be used for the school campus (see Appendix 2) and this is above the flood plain.”
This statement, made in the formal consultation outcome report, is factually incorrect and misleading. Whether that’s deliberate or accidental, I can’t say, but I will show you evidence, from one of Mr Lanagan’s other reports, to prove it. Below is an excerpt from a desktop feasibility study prepared for Mr Lanagan and WDC by JM Architects sometime in late 2012 (the document is undated). This excerpt is from page 51 of the document :
The picture shows the floodplain area on and around Posties Park. Let me please clarify, this isn’t my picture. I didn’t create this on Photoshop or download it from some spurious website. I took it straight from Mr. Lanagan’s own document and have reproduced it exactly here. It isn’t pedantry to say that Mr Lanagan was incorrect in his consultation outcomes report when he said that the school campus would be built above the floodplain. Much of it will be, but not all of it, and that’s a very important distinction. For example, you’ll see from the picture that the entire access road to the school is directly within the floodplain area. This includes the proposed ‘crossing area’ shown in the school plan, and part of the much-lauded proposed sports facilities. I’ve made a visual representation of this on the school plan drawing to illustrate (yellow area shows school campus on floodplain) :
And of course the public realm works to ensure planning-compliant access to the school, namely a footbridge over the River Leven and a path from this to the school crossing area, are ALL directly within the functional floodplain area. None of this was mentioned in Mr. Lanagan’s final outcome report. You’ll also note from the floodplain picture that there is an area of the site which is susceptible to flooding from the River Clyde as well. This floodplain area affects the proposed football field and running track, and, again there was no mention of this in the final report.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency, SEPA, has already informed WDC that it will very likely object in principle to any proposed development on Posties Park, as it would be “contrary to the [flood] avoidance principle, as defined in the Scottish Planning Policy.” Mr Lanagan appears not to be phased by this statement. I, however, am, and if our national environmental experts say that this plan is ill-advised, I’m inclined to listen, regardless of whether or not Mr Lanagan, an educationalist, tells me otherwise. Worryingly though, our own Council leader, Martin Rooney goes to the same school of thought as Mr. Lanagan. This is a statement he made on Facebook a few days ago :
Individual Labour Councillors have already advised concerned citizens that the Labour Group will “vote as a block” on whether or not to build on Posties Park, as it is a “policy decision”. There are ten Labour Councillors on the Education Services Committee who potentially have a vote on this matter, and if their Leader is quoting Mr Lanagan’s mis-information in public, it’s probably fair to expect that the other nine will be harbouring the same mistaken beliefs. Ten votes is just under a majority on this committee, but it is still a very significant number, so it is vital that these Councillors are appropriately advised. I did take the time to tell Martin Rooney all of this on the same Facebook discussion that the above quote came from, but he didn’t respond or even acknowledge my message. I have no idea if the other four Councillors, or the seven Appointees, are aware of the error, either, or if they are also just taking Mr Lanagan at his word. I would encourage every citizen reading this blog to ask any Committee members they know or can contact if they’ve really appraised themselves of the facts, and perhaps ask them who they’d rather put their faith in on this matter – an Executive Director for Education, or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
Those of you who witnessed first-hand the effects of yesterday’s flood at Dumbarton Quayside will know that any prospect of using a footbridge over the River Leven yesterday would have been folly. Yesterday’s tidal surge was relatively unusual, although in fact it is the second in recent weeks (the first one happened in the middle of the night, so was less prominently reported). However, during winter in particular, it is very common for the quayside walkway to flood. It is equally common for there to be high winds and an exceptionally fast-flowing River. Both Mr Lanagan and Mr Rooney have made written statements indicating that Save Posties Park campaigners are alarmist to suggest that there are risks associated with a school sited so close to the Rivers, and one which demands access via a footbridge. I’ll leave you with some pictures of how the exact bridge site area looked at lunchtime yesterday, and you can decide for yourselves whether or not this presents a risk to users.
There’s a growing recognition within the community that building a large secondary school on and beside a functional floodplain is too great a risk to both health, and to the sensitive ecological environment that we depend on. If you’re one of these enlightened citizens, please share the knowledge with your local Councillors, and ask them to vote against this proposal on 8th January. Thank you.