Sunday, May 29

Highland Democracy

Levelling the (Scottish) Playing fields.

In the wide open spaces of Scotland the demands of the governments much heralded private finance initiative will mean that many pupils are being crammed into their schools while their playing fields are being built on.

Such is the result of a £ 100 million Private Finance Intitiative (PFI) project to be signed shortly by Highland council under which a private business initiative will build and importantly run 11 new schools, two of which are going ahead despite loud opposition.

Portree High School in Skye is to be rebuilt on its existing inadequate site despite calls for new premises. One of the two playing fields will be lost and the planned new school has already been described by the Royal Fine Arts Commission as ''extremely disappointing'' and by the council's own planning officer as ''mediocre'' and ''not the sort of uplifting place extolled by the executive''.

Back on the mainland in Dingwall, the existing secondary school is to be replaced with a new one on what are now playing fields. New playing fields are to replace the old ones, however these will be of man-made surfaces less suited to school sports and the childhood habit of falling over.

In true local authority tradition, Highland Council reported receiving 205 letters in support of the development but neglected to mention the ballot of over 3,000 Dingwall residents who in a ballot (run by the Electoral Reform Society) rejected the project by 7.5 per cent.

The two Highland Councillors (one of them a member of the Scottish Labour policy forum) claimed that local campaigners were jeopardising the whole PFI project and backed the deal despite the rejection from both the Dingwell community council and the local people.

Bulldozing the childrens playing fields and local opposition seems a very odd way to improve local democracy and indeed children's fitness. Power to the people indeed.

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