There are a lot of happy people in Dumbarton tonight, and none more than me! After months of agonising uncertainty and bitter debate, West Dunbartonshire Council’s Education Services Committee decided to listen to the people and vote down a proposal to build the new Our Lady and St. Patrick’s high school on Posties Park in Dumbarton.
It was the outcome that Save Posties Park campaigners had fought for and prayed for, but didn’t dare to hope for. All evidence suggested that a different outcome was likely today. When the results of the ‘schools consultation’ came out in December, and the majority of respondents stated that they didn’t want the school on Posties, it was horrifying to then hear Council officials and elected members say that the volume of responses didn’t matter. Director for Education, Terry Lanagan, repeatedly said that the consultation wasn’t a referendum and that the quality of the arguments shaped his recommendation, rather than the public opinion. Today, he said that no new or compelling arguments had been raised during the consultation process; that all the points that campaigners carefully researched and evidenced had already been considered and accounted for before the consultation even began. This possibly explains why his outcome report was just a regurgitation of the heavily biased document he produced at the beginning of the process. I do find it concerning that he didn’t consider any of our arguments to be significant enough to merit caution, but I am however delighted that the Committee ultimately saw sense.
I’d like to try and describe the scene today for any readers who weren’t there, and who haven’t seen any of the footage. When I arrived at just after 9am, there were already about three dozen people gathered with banners and placards, and STV were on site, filming. Quickly, the crowd began to grow, and by around 9:30am, there were perhaps 70 or 80 people gathered. Passing cars (and Council vans!) honked their horns in support, and then our amazing piper, Colin Lawrie, started up and everyone’s spirits raised with the music.
The Director for Education arrived and was roundly booed by the crowd, and a chant of ‘Save Posties Park’ went up immediately, drowning out his attempt to address the assembled campaigners. Rose Harvie intervened and asked the campaigners to give the Director a chance to speak. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he squandered this chance by using the lull to criticise the campaign strategies, although he did exclude the two Community Council Chairs from his criticism. He was booed off.
By the time everyone began to filter into the Denny Civic Theatre at around 9:50am, the crowd had grown considerably. I took my seat, and then watched as hundreds of people came through the door, filling the theatre to capacity, with some standing. I hope that Councillor Michelle McGinty reflected on how she handled the initial venue change requests back in early December, when she dismissed any notion of needing a bigger venue – despite the campaigners showing evidence of a potential large crowd wanting to attend. I reckon that there were around 350 people in the Denny Civic today. If Mrs McGinty had not seen sense at the last minute, around 300 people would have been left standing outside of Garshake Council offices…and probably not particularly peacefully!
It’s fair to say that emotions ran quite high in the theatre today, but I feel that the campaigners conducted themselves well, and any heckling was, in my opinion, relevant and appropriate. There wasn’t much love shown for the Education Director, or Council Leader Martin Rooney, but a great deal of appreciation was shown to Councillor David McBride for tabling the amendment to remove Posties Park from consideration for development.
The biggest cheer of the day went up when Councillor George Black walked onto the stage. It is broadly recognised that Cllr Black and his fellow opposition Councillor, Jim Bollan, have consistently provided a platform for the campaign to broadcast its message, and the crowd’s gratitude for this was clearly evident. The West Dunbartonshire Opposition Councillors’ Facebook page is now ‘bookmarked’ in many a campaigners browser, including of course, my own.
After the meeting, as the crowds flowed out of the theatre, there were smiles, whoops of delight and I’m fairly sure there were even some tears of joy. As we exited into the fresh air, a huge rainbow filled the sky in front of us, and it certainly seemed like an appropriate sign from the Heavens.
And so, with our Park saved, it’s time for me to retire this particular blog, but I’m not going to delete it because it serves as a reminder of what the Save Posties Park campaigners have come through in recent months. We all want to make sure that Posties is now taken off the table for any future developments of this type, and I’m going to keep this blog archived, just in case any other hair-brained schemes are dreamed up by over-reaching Councillors or officials.
To everyone who has supported this blog, thank you. And to the campaigners who I have been privileged to stand with over the last few months, give yourselves a huge round of applause. You did something great today.
Over and out,