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28 May 2004

ANGER MOUNTS OVER SUPERSCHOOL PLAN
AS the consultation period for the proposed ‘Supercampus’ gets under way, there is a growing tide of opposition towards the project.
This was apparent at a stormy meeting of Dunoon Primary School’s Parent Teachers’ Association last week, when the project aroused some anger among parents present.
However, the most damning condemnation came from a teacher whose children will attend the new school if it goes ahead.
Colynn Walker is a history teacher at Gourock High School. He is from Dunoon originally, and moved back four years ago from Rutherglen; his eldest son will start at Dunoon Primary School in August and his younger son is two years old.
Commenting on the meeting, he said: “There were a lot of angry parents on Thursday, and with good reason. The implications of this proposal are only just beginning to sink in, and they really are momentous.
“Dunoon is now the biggest town in the Highlands, now that Inverness has achieved city status. To grow and prosper we need to attract young couples and their children, and to do that we have to continue to provide the sort of education that brought people like me back home.
The notion that you can put every child between two and 18 on to a ‘supercampus’ and improve education is utter nonsense. You are going to have 1800 youngsters and around 200 staff in one area, and it is simply unworkable - in numbers terms you are putting one-fifth of the population of Dunoon in one building.
“I have no doubt that the presentation of this concept will be fantastic, with computer-generated images of how the new structure will look, but it is simply propaganda - smoke and mirrors - with no substance whatsoever in terms of educational improvement.
“What we are being offered is Hobson’s Choice - accept the Supercampus or watch the schools crumble - there is no other option on the table.”
Mr Walker’s main objection is that, irrespective of how wonderful the school is, there will be an unacceptable mix of age groups.
“I’m a history teacher,” he explained. “I teach young adults. A primary schoolchild is completely different and most importantly has an innocence which is lost when it moves on to secondary school - and it will be lost all the sooner if this goes through.
“All the assurances in the world don’t alter the fact that these children are going to mix with each other; and human nature being what it is, the youngsters will be influenced by the older ones.
“This town has education standards to be proud of. Small schools by their very nature provide better education. They are more intimate, have a sense of identity, and have an ethos of their own. Most importantly in many cases parents can walk their children to school.
“What parent would want to put a six-year-old on a bus with secondary pupils?
“Part of the argument about closing Hillfoot Street as a school is that it lacks wheelchair access. However, if the building is to be converted into office space for the council, then that will have to be done anyway.”
Mr Walker argued: “The consultation document lists the ‘plusses’ among them “an environment conducive to effective learning and teaching.
“These are fine words, but at no stage does the document explain just how the supercampus is going to achieve this.
“There is a further aspect that should be considered; the PFI contract is for the maintenance to be carried out by Precept for 30 years, and for the building to be sound for seven years beyond that.
“This means that in forty years time we could be facing exactly the same situation as we are with the Grammar School - is that really the way ahead when we have much older schools standing that have stood the test of time?”
Mr Walker also points out that the picture of Dunoon Primary used to illustrate the document appears to have been deliberately chosen to paint the school in a bad light - “It’s an old picture, and the area shown has been improved since the picture was taken.”
He insists that he is not alone in his views. “I have yet to meet a parent who is for this,” he said. “Nor does it appear to have much support among the teachers who will have to work with this. However, none of them can speak out publicly, for they have their careers to consider. The grapevine has it that they have been told not to rock the boat on this.”
He went on: “The council are being manipulated - they see £ signs from land sales, and they are blinded to the consequences of this. This is a huge experiment and our kids are being used as laboratory mice.
“It is an issue that affects everyone in the area, not just Dunoon. If this comes to pass the village schools will be inundated with children whose parents don’t want their children to go to the new school. Our economy will suffer because one of the major selling points for young couples moving to the area will be lost.
“This has to be stopped before it goes any further. The council has to be made to think again.”
On Tuesday two parents, Nicki Sockalingum and Tracey Davidson, were taking unilateral action to stop the plan. The two launched a petition and by lunchtime had already collected nearly 150 signatures.
Said Nicki: “ I was at the PTA meeting on Thursday, and there appeared to be a general consensus that this project was absolutely a non-starter - even teachers at the meeting were against it.”
Nicki has two children in the primary and one in the Grammar School, while Tracey has three in the primary.
Said Nicki: “There are all kinds of issues - for instance, since Precept own the building, it seems the kids can’t put pictures on the wall - and that’s only a minor indication of the sort of problems that can arise.
“There are obvious safety issues as well, not least of which is the logistic nightmare of getting this number of children to and from school - have they really thought this through? There’s absolutely no mention of it in the consultation document.
“What happens when senior pupils are taking examinations - are they going to fit soundproofing and quadruple glazing so that they won’t be disturbed by the little ones?”
Nicki also took issue with the fact that St Mun’s will be a separate establishment. “It doesn’t matter so much at the moment, since it is an entirely separate school, but I personally think that it’s totally inappropriate for youngsters of the same age to be educated separately in the same building.”
“What all this boils down to is the right of the people of Dunoon to have a say in their children’s future - we simply can’t allow this hair-brained scheme to be railroaded through.”
Two meetings are scheduled for next week. The first will take place on Tuesday night at 7.30pm in the Queen’s Hall to discuss the proposals as they affect Dunoon Primary and Kirn Primary, and the second will take place in the Grammar School the following evening, also at 7.30pm, to discuss the Grammar School and St Mun’s Primary.


EYESORE HOTEL TO BE TRANSFORMED
A derelict hotel which has blighted the seafront in Kirn for a number of years is set to be transformed by a developer into an attractive flatted property.
The Queen’s Hotel is the largest building in the village and still retains some vestige of its former glory, when it was one of the premier hotels on the Clyde.
However, since its closure some years ago it has fallen into disrepair. Efforts by concerned local residents, who formed a group to improve the aspect of Kirn, Enviro-Kirn, and have made huge strides in transforming the promenade area, have been blighted by the fact that the village’s frontage has been dominated by the crumbling ruin of the old hotel, which began life as a fashionable Hydropathic in the early years of the last century.
The company working on the project is M and C Construction, and the cost of the project is estimated at £1m.
The company’s Chairwoman, Debbie McKay, explained: “The inside of the building will be redeveloped into ten high-quality flats, and further housing will be built on the ground to the rear of the hotel itself.
“It will be a ‘clean’ development,” she said, “it will be purely residential, without any commercial presence.
“Everything is in place for this to go ahead; there are backers waiting with finance to put all this into place - all that is needed is planning approval.”
She added: “For a number of years this building has been sitting in a semi-derelict condition. If I was a visitor I would be asking myself: ‘If this is a property on the front - what kind of properties are at the rear of town, out of sight?’ This development will affect not just Kirn, but Dunoon as well, for it will create a much-improved frontage to the approaches to the town.”
Matt Duffy is secretary of EnviroKirn, a local organisation which has been working for the past five years to improve the appearance of the village. The group’s efforts were rewarded with an tourism accolade earlier this year praising their work on the frontage of Kirn.
Said Matt: “There’s no doubt that if this project gets off the ground it will be good news for the whole area - it’s a huge property and for too long it has been detrimental to the appearance of the village.
“My only regret is the loss of the licensed premises. Although I don’t drink myself, I think the three elements a village needs are a shop, a pub and a post office.”


QUESTION HANGS OVER NEW TAXI LICENSING
AN angry taxi owner is demanding to know whether new taxi licences in Dunoon will be granted in future - after a commissioned survey apparently reported that there is ‘no unmet demand’ for more taxis in this area.
William Tucker of Sandhaven has two hire cars on the road at the moment, but the application for a third licence was refused at the end of last month due to the conclusion of this survey.
Mr Tucker explained: “Argyll and Bute Council knew I was planning to buy a purpose built vehicle for disabled access if I was granted this licence, but despite this, the council refused my application and I was forced to re-submit another application, at a further cost of £300, solely for the disabled access vehicle which I have now bought. This is currently being processed.
“Argyll and Bute Council require taxis to be fully insured before the application can even be submitted, and to date, I have spent £8000 on the new vehicle and application fees.”
He added: “I would like to know that if the advice from this survey is what the council are adhering to, does this mean that no more taxi licences can be granted?
“If this is the case,” he added, “is there any point in potential taxi drivers giving them £300 to process an application which will ultimately be refused?
“I feel as if I have just thrown the money down the drain. I could have appealed the application but I didn’t think that there was much point.
“If the licence for my disabled taxi is refused, however, I will be raising serious questions.
“A lot of carers in this town have already told me that there are no taxis able to accommodate electric wheelchairs etc and their demand for a specially adapted taxi is, as yet, unmet.”
The council instructed the survey to be carried out by the Fraser of Allander Institute, and according to Mr Tucker, each proprietor paid a share of the cost of this survey.
However, Mr Tucker said that only members of the Dunoon Taxi Owners Association (DTOA) - of which he is not a member - received a copy of this.
DTOA also objected to Mr Tucker’s initial application, stating that the number of licenses issued should be determined by the demand for taxis, and added that the existing service more than adequately covers this.
However, the secretary of DTOA, Michael MacIntyre, commented that the objection was not a personal attack on Mr Tucker and said that they also had questions for the council as to whether any more licences would be granted.
Mr McIntyre told the Observer: “This survey was sent out to members of the public and 100 per cent said that they were happy with the current level of service.
“However, there were no questions in it which referred to disabled access, so we are not exactly sure what the council’s stance is with regards to granting new taxi licences.
“We certainly don’t want to discriminate against disabled people, but the council should outline how many disabled vehicles are required in this area.
“I cannot say at this stage whether we will be lodging an objection, but we will be meeting this week to discuss the situation.”
A spokesperson for Argyll and Bute Council said: “We are unable to comment as the application for Mr Tucker is still pending.”


SECOND GLENS AND LOCHS TOURING RALLY
BETWEEN June 6 and 11, Paul and Dawn Morley are holding the Second Glens and Lochs Touring Rally at Glendaruel, for motorcycles over 75 years old.
The first rally held in June 2003 was a great success, so it was decided to hold it again this year.
People are travelling from far afield. There are three riders coming from Holland, and a husband and wife (with a combined age of 155 years!) from South Devon with a 1924 Norton sidecar outfit. In fact there are have two outfits this year.
The first motorcycle leaves at 9.30am, and the riders are expected to return from 5pm onwards to 5.30pm.
Members of the public will be most welcome to come and view the motor-cycles and talk to the intrepid riders at this time.
Riders will be well looked after by Michael Kaufmann and his team at the Glendaruel Hotel, and Ann and Annie Craig at the Glendaruel Caravan Park, where seven of the riders and their spouses are to stay.
The oldest machine is a 1920 Triumph, but there are also A.J.S.; Sunbeam; Scott; James; Norton; Douglas; Harley Davidson; Velocette and one B.S.A., so it’s fingers crossed for good weather and a second successful rally.
Further information can be obtained by contacting Paul and Dawn Morley, Glendaruel on tel: 01369 820 287 or fax 01369 820 390.


CHILD OF COURAGE NO STRANGER TO SUCCESS
DUNOON was visited by a real star last week, ‘Child of Courage’ award winner Scott Muir, a boy who touched the nation’s hearts at the Mirror’s Pride of Britain’ ceremony aired earlier this year.
Scott, 14, of East Kilbride, has hit the headlines now on several occasions, most recently starring in an episode of documentary series ‘Tales from the Edge’, shown just after he was presented with the ‘Child of Courage’ accolade by pop star Rachel Stevens - a moment Scott says he will cherish for the rest of his life!
“She was even better-looking in person than on television,” laughed Scott.
“Ozzy Osbourne was there, as well as Melinda Messenger and Jenny Falconer, who both sat at my table. I also got to meet the Prime Minister and I really liked him; he was really down to earth.
“I still don’t know who nominated me for the award though.”
Scott, a pupil of Hamilton College, is the only member of his family who is not deaf and he is their lifeline to communication. Mum Angela, dad Iain and two brothers, 17-year-old Barry and eight year-old Colin, rely on Scott to answer the phone, make calls, and do all the other things that most people who are not deaf, take for granted.
Scott explained: “I learned sign language before I could speak. I began picking it up at a very early age and then my mum and dad taught me how to do it properly.
“My mum is also partially blind so I sometimes have to use deaf and blind sign language to talk to her as she cannot always see what I am saying.”
However, despite not being able to do the things that hearing people can do, each member of the family is otherwise fiercely independent, and Angela apparently loves trying different sports and goes cycling with a guide who assists her when Scott, or Angela’s mother or stepfather isn’t there to help.
Brother Barry is a gymnastics champion, and won seven events in the 2001 British Special Olympics, clocking up six gold medals and one silver in the adult category when he was only 14. He also won the Fyfe Championships, and is currently training for the British national squad - as well as working with the NHS.
Scott came to Dunoon for the day last week with his uncle, Sheriff Clerk John McGraw, as part of a ‘take your son or daughter to work day’ that his school was participating in.
However, an insight into the justice system hasn’t dampened Scott’s bid for stardom.
He is working hard on his acting career and it looks likely that he will be successful in his ambition to be a famous actor or television presenter as he has just finished filming a seven-part children’s television show, ‘Butterfingers’, which was produced and recorded in Scotland but will be broadcasted all over the country.
Although he was reluctant to say what else is in the pipeline, he hinted that there may be an opportunity for other children’s shows.
Praising his nephew, Sheriff Clerk John said: “I think he’s great. Scott never moans and he just gets on with it. Growing up with my sister (Angela), I experienced what it was like to have one member of the family who is deaf, so it must be a lot harder for Scott to have to translate for everyone.
“I tried to learn sign language but I am not nearly as good as Scott. When Angela and I were young, we used to have our own sign language - and only we could understand it!”
As well as the Pride of Britain Awards, Scott attended the ‘Great Scot’ Awards at the end of last year, where he was presented with the ‘Unsung Hero’ award for his dedication to making his family’s life as normal as possible.