Building on the green belt

Broomfield Playing Fields and Running Track
Broomfield Playing Fields and Running Track

In East Ayrshire a debate is raging. The Council is proposing to build a new 2500 pupil “super school” on a site which is currently playing fields and a running track and which is susceptible to flooding. Much of the community is opposed on a variety of different grounds. For Greens, this debate feels unsettlingly familiar. For me, parallels can be drawn with North Kelvin Meadows in Glasgow and with the controversy about Portobello High School in Edinburgh.

The new Portobello High School in construction on what used to be parkland
The new Portobello High School in construction on what used to be parkland

In brief, The Portobello High case goes like this. The existing high school is decrepit to the point of being dangerous. Pupils are learning in dilapidated buildings and they desperately need and deserve much better. But in a highly built up area, the land available to build a new school was severely limited and a simple repair job just wasn’t feasible. Cue a long and divisive debate about building a new school on a nearby park.

As Greens, we were in a tricky position. The pupils and teachers desperately needed a new school but we strongly err against building on greenbelt and parklands. In the end, we sided with the argument for a new school on the condition that the old school land is turned into a park to compensate. Check out the plans for a new £1 million park here.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 18.18.30
Local residents protesting plans to bulldoze North Kelvin Meadow

In North Kelvin Meadow, the debate is rather more straightforward. In an outrageous case of profit before people, Glasgow City Council’s planning committee decided this week to go against public opinion and sell off a much loved piece of greenspace to a private developer to build 90 flats. Last year, Green Councillors in the city protested the proposal and tried to persuade Labour and SNP Councillors to back them. They refused and this week the planning committee decided to bulldoze the site.

That takes us to East Ayrshire where it seems the council has continued to ignore the wishes of a community and is pursuing its proposed development at Broomfield Playing fields. The local Scottish Green Party branch in Ayrshire submitted a written objection, during the consultation period that ended last year. Our objection focused on a number of issues including the fact that the plan flew in the face of the councils’ own local development plan, environmental policy, playing fields policy, and its policy on safeguarding open spaces.

Here’s a flavour of what we said last year;

  • The Council’s own representatives stated in a community meeting that they weren’t sure if the site could accommodate what’s proposed. In fact, it’s unclear why this site was chosen at all, with the Education and Planning Departments blaming each other for the recommendation to build there.
  • The estimated cost of the proposal is £63 million just for construction and road access, not including costs for furniture, IT and so on. Compare that with the cost of a full overhaul, repair and improvement to the existing school provision, estimated at £56 million *including* furniture, IT and so on.

As with Portobello, it’s clear that children in East Ayrshire deserve much better than what they have but we remain to be convinced that this proposal is the right one. And as with North Kelvin Meadow, we stand with those who want to protect the precious greenspace that exists here. We Greens stand alongside the objectors and challenge East Ayrshire Council to look again at whether this is a sensible development given the environmental and flooding problems that residents of East Ayrshire are already facing.

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