THE message from the people of Brechin to elected members of Angus Council was a clear one on Monday evening.
“We support the concept of a new community campus on the Brechin High School site - but not one which will replace existing community services such as Brechin Library.”
Almost 60 people attended the meeting in Brechin High School’s Assembly Hall, which was hosted by director of education Neil Logue and senior education manager Craig Clement, along with Gordon Cargill, education project manager for the new Brechin High School.
The meeting heard elected representatives, with all three of Brechin’s elected members present, being told that, while the concept of a state of the art new school was to be welcomed, the community wouldn’t view the loss of services from the town centre like Brechin Library with any willingness whatsoever.
There was also wide-ranging support from numerous members of the public present to invest in the City Hall, one member of the public highlighting that while a new performance space was required it was perfectly situated in the town centre at the City Hall.
One member of the public asked why there was no provision on the drawings displayed for a new swimming pool.
Project manager Gordon Cargill’s reply was that: “It is very early on in the consultation process, but we have taken on board requests for a longer swimming pool for competitions and the provision of an area for spectators within that pool.”
Local artist David Adam asked if there had been any consideration given to the opening of a gallery within the community campus, with the opportunity to attract students, artists and painters from all over the world.
Director of education Neil Logue said that this concept was one that “couldn’t be ruled out”.
He continued: “It is exactly the sort of suggestion and feedback we look for on evenings like this and, at this juncture, it would be completely wrong to rule anything in or out.”
Ron Stewart of NODA was joined by members of the Brechin Operatic Society and former SNP Councillor Joy Mowatt in the support for retaining and improving the City Hall.
Mr Stewart added that having a performance space in a secondary school setting “simply doesn’t work, as had been proved at Carnoustie.”
Mrs Mowatt added: “I don’t want to hear you can’t take money out of this budget and put it in that budget, because you can.
“The City Hall desperately needs investment and the people of Brechin have spoken loudly and clearly tonight. They want to keep their City Hall - end of!”
Speaking after the meeting, Angus Council’s education convener, Peter Neild, said he had been delighted with the response from people and the diverse range of views which were aired.
“I thought people were quite receptive. They wanted to make their point and they have always been listened too.
“There was no real dissent, which I am pleased about. There was quite clearly an indication from local people that they want to keep some other facilities in Brechin as well as a new high school.
“We are told that if you get five in 100 people turning out you are doing not too badly at all and I counted 57 members of the public, which, on a winter’s night when parents have children to look after, isn’t a bad turn out.
“We have also consulted with parents on-line and with pupils and parents through the parents and pupil councils, so I was pleased with the turn-out.
“The finance of this project is a nightmare and the government has said it wants us to put it off book.
“Under financial regulations, however, we can’t do that. They have changed it to PP (Public Private Partnership). The main difference is a profit is still made, but is redistributed back to a good cause - in this case education.”
Mr Nield continued by saying there’s not a month goes by where the rules don’t change.
“My fear, and it is a genuine fear, is that any new government coming in may change this again.
“We know next year’s settlement was delayed. But all I am giving the people of Brechin from day one - when we were told the Scottish Government’s Futures Trust expected this to be a £30 million project - is that we said we would commit £10 million.
“We have stuck to that £10 million and the officers really have worked hard to get a secondary school for £24 million, which anyone will tell you is good going.
“Whoever gets the contract will be sub-contracting to local plumbers, builders and bricklayers, so this is money going back into the community.
“When we built in Forfar and Carnoustie, local contractors were used and that is very important. I am keen to get this started. The deadlines have been put back by the government, not by us. We want to get started as soon as possible.
“If you identify a school as not fit for purpose why should the people of Brechin wait until 2015 for work to start on it?
“We haven’t got the funds to redevelop the City Hall from this project. It has to be a separate entity, separately financed.
“To refurbish the Webster Theatre in Arbroath cost £4.5 million - a lot of money.
“Economists are saying the turn out of this recession should come in 2014.
“That’s in the middle of the next administration and the next administration could put things like the hall in their future capital plan.
“We had to cancel a lot of capital projects elsewhere in Angus to get together the £10 million for Brechin.
“We had to re-align those projects to commit to the new school in Brechin.
“Decisions are difficult when you are a councillor. No one takes an easy decision and I am sure from other parts of Angus there are people saying why has my project been put back?”