Green light for old school plans
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.