January 11, 2017
With the focus of public policy increasingly centred on community control over assets and local services, it seems strange that there’s been so little interest in pro-typing new models of partnership between the public and community sectors in order to create new infrastructure. It’s as if the whole procurement system is stuck in the belief that new infrastructure can only be delivered by the private sector. Perhaps recent developments at Strontian will be a portent of things to come.
This innovative project has evolved from a number of community consultations over the past 4 years: the Strontian Community Consultation & Action Plan by Cadispa; the Highland Council Strontian Primary School Consultation Report 2014 (statutory consultation); Community Housing needs survey and Strontian Masterplanning exercise which has just been completed.
Throughout this extended period of community consultation two elements of community provision essential to the community’s sustainability and growth have been highlighted as areas of major concern. A primary school fit for the 21st century, and affordable housing both for key workers, and to attract new and retain existing families, who struggle to find affordable secure tenancies.
The existing primary school was assessed as inadequate for both educational suitability and building condition by the Highland Council in 2014, and the statutory consultation resulted in initial proposals being put forward to the community which failed to reassure them that the replacement facility would provide their children with the educational environment they deserve.
The situation has been complicated by the future potential for the primary school to be accommodated within the existing High School sometime after 2027 (the existing High School, which also houses the nursery and community facilities was built under a PPP contract which ends in 2027, at which point the Council ‘inherits’ the building). However prior to this, as a result of the PPP arrangement the Highland Council is unable to vary the contract, for example to alter the building, without attracting heavy penalties.
Prior to the statutory consultation an area of land adjacent to the High School, and affording easy access to allow for the use of community facilities, was identified as the perfect position on which to build the required replacement primary school. Further, it is in an area that is being developed to provide housing and amenity land for the community. However, the Council’s preferred option of using the site to house modular units for the new school did not meet the community’s aspirations for a high-quality, long-term solution. As a result the community have come forward with their own proposal to address the need to upgrade the primary school.
This innovative proposal provides one solution to a number of immediate and long term community needs: design and build a primary school fit for the 21st century incorporating community office space, based on the footprint of a terrace of 3 or 4 houses which would allow for the efficient and economical conversion to community owned housing or other identified community use if and when the building is no longer required by the Highland Council as a primary school.
The community owned housing could then be provided to suit the needs of the community at this point e.g. as sheltered housing provision for an ageing population, keyworker housing, community resource, or whatever need has arisen at that time.
Importantly, Highland Council would continue to provide the education service under this proposal, as they are required to do: the community would provide only the basic building.
This proposal has been developed by the community, has the support of the Highland Council and has attracted an offer in principle of both development finance and long term loan from a major ethical bank and is recognised as having the potential to provide a template for future service provision within rural communities by replacing the PPP’s and PPF’s with ‘Community Public Partnerships’.