A LEADING Borders environmentalist has criticised plans to build the new Galashiels Academy in Scott Park.

Scottish Borders Council (SBC) is running an informal consultation on the proposals until Monday (April 26).

But Charles Strang, the co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party’s Borders branch, has expressed disappointment with the council’s approach.

In a letter, Mr Strang writes: “On the face of it this is not a genuine consultation, but a hollow exercise seeking to justify an education authority taking the easy option of expanding onto a greenfield site just because they think they can.”

Yet he adds: “The people who care about public open space, and trust in local government, should still be seeking to make their voices heard.”

A website launched by SBC last month tries to describe the decision-making behind the council’s preferred plan.

Before settling on Scott Park, the council ruled out three other sites – the town centre, Netherdale and Langlee.

Within Scott Park, the council has outlined five “areas” but favours Area 3 because it is viewed as “the most deliverable in terms of educational functionality, community value, construction and cost”.

Although the school would be built in Scott Park, the council says the park would be “extended, enhanced and reimagined” as a result.

The consultation website says: “When the project is complete, the publicly accessible areas of Scott Park will have increased by more than 1.5 times to 6.1 hectares.”

However, as previously reported, the plan has been criticised by campaign group Save Scott Park.

A petition, which now has more than 1,300 signatures, calls for the council to develop an “alternative option”.

But the latest contribution to the debate comes from Mr Strang, 71, of the Borders Greens.

Describing the consultation website, Mr Strang said: “I don’t think it gives a fair or particularly clear portrayal of the process thus far.”

Mr Strang, a retired architect-planner, told the Border Telegraph: “I would start from a basic principle that building on Scott Park should be the last option that you would consider.”

The St Boswells resident feels the council is being “disingenuous” about the impact its preferred option would have on Scott Park.

He said: “Essentially this ‘informal consultation’ is a presentation of the selected option with no links to any options appraisal which may have been carried out on the four Gala sites, and only the most superficial assessment of the five options which are centred on the current site.

“In particular I would have expected some explanation of the history of Scott Park and the reasons why the council feels there are no legal impediments to its use in this way. 

“It is disingenuous to argue that the areas around the new school would constitute a park. Some indication of Scott Park’s status within the current and proposed Development Plans would also have aided transparency.

“Nowhere do I see any attempt to reuse any of the existing buildings, which you might think might be a compelling reason in sustainability terms to examine this site rather more closely in the initial site search.

“And without a detailed brief being indicated, not only is it difficult to look at the fit and design options of the various sites, but also it is unclear as to the centralisation of community facilities proposed here.”

A council spokesperson said: “The council has made use of an online digital exercise supplemented with an unmanned exhibition in the Galashiels Transport Interchange to provide a robust consultation.

“We would like to place on record our thanks to all of the people that have taken the time to submit comments on the proposals since the consultation went live on March 18.

Anyone interested in making a comment can do so through the link on the council’s website or directly to Galacampus@scotborders.gov.uk

“Following the closure of this initial phase of the consultation, the feedback will be reflected upon and used to help prepare a report to the council in late spring recommending the next steps for the project.”

The full letter from Charles Strang

I write on behalf of Scottish Borders Greens to draw your readers’ attention to the imminent closing date for submissions on the proposals for the “new” Gala Academy.

Comments are due in on or before Monday 26 April. It has been suggested elsewhere, and in the columns of local newspapers, that this consultation is a sham.

Why is it important that readers take the time and make the effort to respond to this consultation? It is not because the consultation itself has great merit.

The Council itself has taken planning advice from consultants which tells them effectively that they need pay no attention to the results of any consultation.

It may be that they have sought this independent advice because their own planners have maintained their professional judgements that the proposed site, given in perpetuity to the people of Galashiels as a “pleasure ground”, is a key green space which should continue to be maintained as such.

That is how they have described it in the recent consultative draft Local Development Plan, and no doubt in Development Plans before that.

The Council appears reluctant to share their brief for this major improvement in secondary school provision for the Galashiels catchment area.

It seems unlikely that, as has been suggested, there is no brief for this multi million pound expenditure: some form of brief would be essential to assess even one single option, never mind a range.

Another useful role for any brief would be to examine the potential for retention of any of the educational facilities which already comprise the secondary school campus. This is a particularly important aspect when one considers the amount of embodied energy present in the existing buildings on the site. Plainly when one is addressing the sustainability of any development the existing buildings and site characteristics are critical factors.

No, on the face of it this is not a genuine consultation, but a hollow exercise seeking to justify an Education Authority taking the easy option of expanding onto a greenfield site just because they think they can.

The people who care about public open space, and trust in local government, should still be seeking to make their voices heard.