I attended my third community evening in Dunbar this week regarding Dunbar Primary School provision.
Due to a rapidly expanding population in Dunbar it has become necessary to enhance the primary school provision in Dunbar earlier than had been previously predicted. There are a number of options – all of which involve the construction of a new building.
As is the case with all such developments the council officers representing finance, property services; planning and education met to undertake an option appraisal where the criteria for selection included: cost; education; flexibility for expanding provision in the future; and traffic considerations
There were 5 options:
- A. Do nothing – not an option really given the growth in population and predicted school roll of 1,253 by 2014;
- B. Build a second primary school in a green field site;
- C. Build an infant school (P1-P3) on a green field site and use the current primary school as an upper primary school (P4-P7)
- D. Build a new upper primary school on a green field site and use the existing building as an infant school;
- E. Extend West Barns Primary School – this has been discounted due to a traffic management review which demonstrates that it could not accommodate any increase in roll.
Options A and E can be discounted – which left B, C an D.
Taking all factors into account the officers – of whom I was one – preferred the option B.
However, what has become very apparent is that the concern of the community does not focus solely upon educational criteria but is based upon a strong fear that a new school South of the Railway (which might only service the educational needs of the new houses which have been built in Dunbar over the last 7 years) would split the community of Dunbar between “old” and “new” and – as was suggested on Thursday evening – along socio-economic lines.
The question I’m left with is whether or not council officials such as myself can ever take such criteria into account?
Our reasoning for recommending a new school on the proposed site was influenced by the fact that it was a better educational solution; significantly cheaper (we have duty to procure within a best value regime for the benefit of the whole of East Lothian); enables safe routes to school; and significantly reduces travel distances and associated environmental impact)
Considering these factors objectively – and in isolation from the social dynamic factor – one can see why we are recommending the solution for a new school. However, such a decision does not satisfy the wishes of the community.
It has been suggested that it should be left to a referendum of the people of Dunbar but how does a council ensure appropriate distribution of its resources if every community makes selections without any reference to the financial or educational consequences of such a decision?