Court delivers a hammer blow to school plans

Published: 27 Aug 2014 11:00

A HAMMER blow has left East Renfrewshire Council reeling after a court decision shot down newschool plans.

In a shock decision from the Court of Session in Edinburgh, council bosses

have been told that they can not build a new Barrhead High School on Cowan Park land.

Councillors have insisted that the land was council owned when met by opposition from community groups over the decision to build in the park.

However pressure groups now have the backing of the most powerful court in the land, as Lord Tyne took the decision that the park is common good land, and can not be alienated.

Campaigners look set to claim a victory against the local authority, while councillors from all parties say that “the youth of Barrhead are the real losers here.”

The future of the £22 million school now hangs in the balance, as East

Renfrewshire Council scrambles to find a plan B — however sources close to

the council have said it is in a “state of panic.”

A statement from Friends of the Cowan Park, who have defended the park’s common good land status, said: “Just for the record there are no winners and all that Friends of Cowan Park can see is losers, the council, and the council’s reputation of course, but so too the kids, teachers, wider Barrhead community etc, all at an incredible loss to the tax payer.

“The Court of Session route taken by ERC was an extremely expensive risky

decision particularly as there is good land owned by the Council elsewhere in the Town, for example adjacent to Cowan Park; that is not common good land

and, with the right will, the school could have been built there without the need

for Court of Session approval, carrying out any straightforward flood alleviation requirements as necessary.”

East Renfrewshire Council took the case to court on its own last year to seek

clarification on its right to build on the land.

The decision to approach the Court of Session at a cost of more than £20,000

was taken amid threats from pressure groups and campaigners, including members of the Cowan Park Action Group, to take the local authority to court.

When the location of the school was announced in late 2012, members of the

community immediately raised their concerns that the area of the park highlighted was “common good land” and could not be built on by East Renfrewshire Council as it did not belong to the authority.

The park was left in 1910 to the people of Barrhead in the will of James Cowan of Rosshall, and it was believed to have remained in the possession of the people of Barrhead since then.

However councillors and spokesmen for the council have repeatedly said the

deeds to the land are owned by East Renfrewshire Council.

The council also admitted earlier this year that there was no plan B in place, and said at the time that if current plans didn’t go ahead that the future of the project could be in jeopardy.

Now residents are looking for answers from the council, asking why the project was allowed to get to such an advanced state without basic knowledge on the ownership of the land.

A Friends of Cowan Park statement read: “The decision where to place the new school was made by East Renfrewshire Council/the Political Administration in July 2012, without public engagement. Friends of Cowan Park would like to know who personally made the proposal and who personally approved it, particularly as, at that time, the

Council did not do the basic checks — they did not understand

it was common good land and its special significance (even after

people in the Town drew this to their attention!). An investigation

should take place into what took place and lessons should be

learned.

“Of the alternative options now left to the council private members

bill will no doubt be considered. This would take considerable

time and delay the project even further. It is our understanding that

the “funders” were originally providing funding on the basis that it

was a “shovel ready” project and funding was initially granted with

a construction start date of January 2014.

“Afew months back the Council said there was no “plan B” if the

Court of Session did not grant their wishes, as the “funders” would

“pull the plug”. FOCP call upon ERC to come up with a plan B

quick style, as, if ERC are as good as their word, the “funders” will

not wait the time that it takes to drive through a private members

bill.”

The news that the Scottish Schools Futures Trust was approving

the £20 million in grant cash for the building of the new school was

met with widespread jubilation in 2012.

A spokeswoman for East Renfrewshire Council said: “We are

very disappointed with this decision but remain undeterred in our

commitment to building a new Barrhead High School. This is a

very complex issue and in light of the judgement today, we need

time to reflect and review our options.”

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2 thoughts on “Court delivers a hammer blow to school plans

  1. This was an interesting decision as the council was trying to claim that it was disposing of the land (which would have been allowed) but the judge said it amounted to an appropriation, which was not possible following the 2012 Portobello Park decision that there is no provision in the law that allows the appropriation of inalienable common land. East Renfrewshire council has already considered the use of a private bill so it look like they will do down this route in order to subvert the law like the City of Edinburgh Council did. But of course the passing of the bill hasn’t set a precedent, oh no.

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