Green light for old school plans

The Oban Times - - News - STEVEN RAE srae@oban­times.co.uk

PLAN­NING per­mis­sion to de­velop a former Fort Wil­liam school cam­pus, de­scribed as an ‘eye­sore’ by elected mem­bers, has been granted by High­land Coun­cil.

The de­ci­sion to ren­o­vate the former Fort Wil­liam Sec­ondary School, on Ach­in­tore Road, was made by coun­cil­lors at the South Plan­ning Ap­pli­ca­tions Com­mit­tee meet­ing in In­ver­ness on Tues­day, with the de­ci­sion passed by 15 votes to two.

The devel­op­ment will be partly funded by a grant of £270,000 from His­toric En­vi­ron­ment Scot­land (for­merly known as His­toric Scot­land).

The plans are to de­mol­ish the ex­ist­ing din­ing hall build­ing at the front of the site and the two pri­mary school build­ings at the rear. Part of the stone wall is to be re­moved along the front to build a new cen­tral ac­cess point, and there are changes within the former sec­ondary school to rear­range the in­ter­nal lay­out.

The ex­ist­ing former sec­ondary school, a Cat­e­gory B listed build­ing, is to be re­paired and re-roofed. It is pro­posed to erect a two-storey ex­ten­sion onto the side and rear of the former sec­ondary school.

Fort Wil­liam and Ard­na­mur­chan coun­cil­lor An­drew Bax­ter, of the High­land Al­liance, pro­posed a mo­tion that per­mis­sion be re­fused, mainly based on the size and scale of the devel­op­ment and how it would look com­pared to ad­ja­cent build­ings. He was sec­onded by fel­low High­land Al­liance coun­cil­lor, Don­nie Kerr.

Fort Wil­liam Com­mu­nity Coun­cil had raised ob­jec­tions over the pro­pos­als on a num­ber of is­sues, in­clud­ing the im­pact on pri­vacy to the ad­ja­cent Lime Tree ho­tel.

It was also felt the de­sign of the ex­ten­sion would ‘di­min­ish the sig­nif­i­cance and aes­thetic ap­pear­ance of the listed build­ing’.

Jimmy Gray, chair­man of the South Plan­ning Ap­pli­ca­tions Com­mit­tee, said at the meet­ing: ‘ What we have here is a plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion. It might not be what we would all have liked to have but it is what is in front of us. The site has long needed devel­op­ment. It hasn’t been used in 40 years.’

While he noted that the planned con­struc­tion may be seen as ‘ con­tem­po­rary’ and cre­ate a mix of old and new styles of ar­chi­tec­ture, he added: ‘on bal­ance, we should be say­ing ‘ yes’.’

Coun­cil­lor Bax­ter thanked plan­ning of­fi­cer Su­san MacMil­lan for her ‘fair and bal­anced’ re­port on the ap­pli­ca­tion, not­ing there had been a lot of in­ter­est in the ren­o­va­tion from peo­ple in Fort Wil­liam.

He said: ‘Like all other Lochaber coun­cil­lors, I sup­ported in prin­ci­pal the site be­ing re­con­structed, as it is seen as an eye­sore as an en­trance to the town. Fort Wil­liam Com­mu­nity Coun­cil also sup­ported it at the time.’

How­ever, he said he felt the plans should be re­con­sid­ered, claim­ing that re­as­sur­ance had not been made that the aes- thet­ics and scale of the devel­op­ment would be fit­ting with the con­text of the sur­round­ing site.

Sup­port­ing him, fel­low High­land Al­liance coun­cil­lor Don­nie Kerr, who is based in In­ver­ness Cen­tral, said: ‘It is al­ways good to see a derelict build­ing come into pro­duc­tive use. How­ever, I feel we could have done bet­ter and can see where Fort Wil­liam Com­mu­nity Coun­cil’s ob­jec­tion has come from, so I’ve de­cided to sec­ond An­drew’s [ Bax­ter] mo­tion. He has the lo­cal knowl­edge.’

Thomas MacLen­nan, chair­man of the Lochaber Area Com­mit­tee, dis­agreed with his fel­low High­land Al­liance mem­bers. ‘ For 40 years, the build­ing has been an eye­sore at the gate­way to Fort Wil­liam,’ he said. He noted the coun­cil had spent an es­ti­mated £1mil­lion in sus­tain­ing the site over the past 40 years, in­clud­ing re­pair­ing the roof in 2011, and that it ‘needed brought to a halt with this op­por­tu­nity’.

He added: ‘I just want to see that build­ing go.’

Speak­ing to The Oban Times af­ter the plans were ap­proved, coun­cil­lor MacLen­nan said: ‘This is an op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a wel­com­ing gate­way into Fort Wil­liam, and by cre­at­ing th­ese of­fices, frees up other of­fice space to be used for res­i­den­tial pur­poses.’

As it is a cat­e­gory B listed build­ing, un­der the Plan­ning (Listed Build­ings and Con­ser­va­tion Ar­eas) (Scot­land) Act 1997, the plans will now go to Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment min­is­ters for ap­proval.

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