Council apologise for 'gross incompetence' over primary school planning

Renfrewshire Council face a bill of £75m for a second primary and high school extension after 'very serious' historic mistakes.

Council apologise for ‘gross incompetence’ over Dargavel Primary School planning LDRS

Council chiefs have apologised for “very serious” historic mistakes after an independent review exposed the “gross incompetence” behind the planning for Dargavel Primary School.

The botched calculations, which saw the facility in Arrochar Drive, Bishopton, built too small, has left the local authority facing a bill of up to £75m for a second primary school and extension for Park Mains High School.

An investigation into the errors, carried out by a former chief executive of four councils in David Bowles, examined the Section 75 agreements between the council and landowner BAE Systems and found demand for school places was “substantially underestimated.”

The review said senior education management at the time were “incompetent” and “not sufficiently engaged” in the project.

However, there are no senior officers, who were involved in the Dargavel development, at the council now.

The probe found a “repeated failure” to test data and examples where “simple common sense” would have alerted the council to the problem.

A failure to take concerns expressed by councillors, MSPs and community representatives seriously was also highlighted – with a suggestion that officers showed “professional arrogance”.

The review said: “The overriding conclusion is that the council was completely unaware of, and therefore unprepared for, the impact that a development such as Dargavel would have upon the education service.

“It approached negotiations and assessment of the impact of the development in an amateur manner, failing to understand that it had neither the technical skills nor the financial awareness to conclude what was a commercial negotiation with BAE.

“Combined with a failure of management oversight and gross incompetence the council did not negotiate fair and reasonable terms for the provision of education, in its various Section 75 Agreements with BAE.

“It failed to secure adequate school provision for the Dargavel development.”

It added the failure will impact the quality of children’s educational experience and “impose significant additional costs” on taxpayers in the future.

Alan Russell, chief executive of Renfrewshire Council, said: “On behalf of Renfrewshire Council, I am deeply sorry for the very serious historic mistakes made over a prolonged period and for the understandable distress caused to local communities in the area.

“This is a very difficult report for the council and will be equally upsetting for the Dargavel community.

“I fully acknowledge the review findings and accept all its recommendations.”

Work to progress a new primary school for 800 pupils in Dargavel Village is under way and discussions are ongoing with BAE to secure a site.

Meanwhile, temporary classrooms will be installed at the existing Dargavel Primary during the summer.

The review will be considered by councillors at the full council meeting on Thursday, June 22.

Council leader Iain Nicolson said: “The initial details make for extremely difficult reading, particularly for those who raised concerns over many years and were not listened to, some going back as far as 2008.

“As an administration we will take the time to consider this report and its findings and ensure we work closely with officers to rectify the mistakes of the past.”

The debacle emerged in November when it became clear Dargavel Primary, which opened the previous January, wasn’t big enough to meet the needs of its growing catchment area.

Initial calculations projected the roll wouldn’t exceed around 430 pupils.

However, analysis recently predicted the number of pupils could peak at 1,131 by 2033 – but also said space may be needed for as many as 1,500 if demand was to continue long-term.

A BAE spokesperson said: “Throughout the development of Dargavel Village, we’ve worked in partnership with Renfrewshire Council, accepting its decisions as the local education authority.

“Whilst we’ve fulfilled our planning obligations for primary education by delivering a new school in 2021 and providing land for a nursery, we continue to work proactively with Renfrewshire Council, over and above these obligations, to support its revised strategy for local primary education provision.

“We recognise the importance of this issue for the residents of Dargavel Village and have identified potential areas of the development to Renfrewshire Council which could be used to deliver its additional primary education requirements.”

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