Published: 27 Aug 2014 11:00
A HAMMER blow has left East Renfrewshire Council reeling after a court decision shot down newschool plans.
In a shock decision from the Court of Session in Edinburgh, council bosses
have been told that they can not build a new Barrhead High School on Cowan Park land.
Councillors have insisted that the land was council owned when met by opposition from community groups over the decision to build in the park.
However pressure groups now have the backing of the most powerful court in the land, as Lord Tyne took the decision that the park is common good land, and can not be alienated.
Campaigners look set to claim a victory against the local authority, while councillors from all parties say that “the youth of Barrhead are the real losers here.”
The future of the £22 million school now hangs in the balance, as East
Renfrewshire Council scrambles to find a plan B — however sources close to
the council have said it is in a “state of panic.”
A statement from Friends of the Cowan Park, who have defended the park’s common good land status, said: “Just for the record there are no winners and all that Friends of Cowan Park can see is losers, the council, and the council’s reputation of course, but so too the kids, teachers, wider Barrhead community etc, all at an incredible loss to the tax payer.
“The Court of Session route taken by ERC was an extremely expensive risky
decision particularly as there is good land owned by the Council elsewhere in the Town, for example adjacent to Cowan Park; that is not common good land
and, with the right will, the school could have been built there without the need
for Court of Session approval, carrying out any straightforward flood alleviation requirements as necessary.”
East Renfrewshire Council took the case to court on its own last year to seek
clarification on its right to build on the land.
The decision to approach the Court of Session at a cost of more than £20,000
was taken amid threats from pressure groups and campaigners, including members of the Cowan Park Action Group, to take the local authority to court.
When the location of the school was announced in late 2012, members of the
community immediately raised their concerns that the area of the park highlighted was “common good land” and could not be built on by East Renfrewshire Council as it did not belong to the authority.
The park was left in 1910 to the people of Barrhead in the will of James Cowan of Rosshall, and it was believed to have remained in the possession of the people of Barrhead since then.
However councillors and spokesmen for the council have repeatedly said the
deeds to the land are owned by East Renfrewshire Council.
The council also admitted earlier this year that there was no plan B in place, and said at the time that if current plans didn’t go ahead that the future of the project could be in jeopardy.
Now residents are looking for answers from the council, asking why the project was allowed to get to such an advanced state without basic knowledge on the ownership of the land.
A Friends of Cowan Park statement read: “The decision where to place the new school was made by East Renfrewshire Council/the Political Administration in July 2012, without public engagement. Friends of Cowan Park would like to know who personally made the proposal and who personally approved it, particularly as, at that time, the
Council did not do the basic checks — they did not understand
it was common good land and its special significance (even after
people in the Town drew this to their attention!). An investigation
should take place into what took place and lessons should be
“Of the alternative options now left to the council private members
bill will no doubt be considered. This would take considerable
time and delay the project even further. It is our understanding that
the “funders” were originally providing funding on the basis that it
was a “shovel ready” project and funding was initially granted with
a construction start date of January 2014.
“Afew months back the Council said there was no “plan B” if the
Court of Session did not grant their wishes, as the “funders” would
“pull the plug”. FOCP call upon ERC to come up with a plan B
quick style, as, if ERC are as good as their word, the “funders” will
not wait the time that it takes to drive through a private members
The news that the Scottish Schools Futures Trust was approving
the £20 million in grant cash for the building of the new school was
met with widespread jubilation in 2012.
A spokeswoman for East Renfrewshire Council said: “We are
very disappointed with this decision but remain undeterred in our
commitment to building a new Barrhead High School. This is a
very complex issue and in light of the judgement today, we need
time to reflect and review our options.”