Leverhulme project looks for planning backing after tackling issues

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Leverhulme Memorial School Steering Group (LMSG) – who have been exploring plans for the redevelopment of the Old Block at Leverhulme Memorial School in Harris have been tackling a number of issues which have hampered their efforts to take the project forward.

A planning application, for the redevelopment of the “Old Block” was submitted to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in June. The group have proposed several uses for the soon-to-be empty building, including a historical society, café, gym, charity shop and commercial laundrette.

However issues such as the condition of the building being described in a committee report as “only fit for demolition”, was contrary to a survey report undertaken in 2012 which did not find this.

The council had also proposed that while renovation work took place in the newer part of the school, children would be housed in the Old Block, which would be difficult if this building was in a dilapidated state. It is also still in use as part of the school.

Concerns had also been raised about having public facilities in such close proximity to a school, with regard to child protection issues.

However the steering group pointed out a number of schools around the Western Isles have public facilities based in the same buildings as schools.

In fact the council’s option appraisal process undertaken earlier this year put plans to a public meeting which included a proposal to split the Old Block into classrooms combined with a facility for public use.

Another issue raised was related to the vehicular access. Members of the steering group had a site meeting with a member of the Roads Department and it appeared that there were no major problems concerning the access. However access issues were raised by the Council’s Technical Services department.

The steering group provided video evidence of vehicles using the access road and plans of proposals for signage. They also provided sight line plans and an engineer’s report which clearly state that the access to and from the Old Block is safe.

But despite this Technical Services continued in their “reservations” based on the access issues. This now means the application must go before the council committee, with the meeting due to take place tomorrow (Tuesday).

The Council would not be drawn into the detail of the steering group’s stance on the issues.

They stated: “A Report on this matter is planned to be considered by the Committee. Members of the Committee will then have the opportunity to examine the planning issues around this application and to reach a decision.”

LMS steering group chairman, Angus MacLeod said: “It is disappointing that our efforts to regenerate South Harris, an area which has been in receipt of very little investment over the last few decades, have been hampered with what can only be described as stumbling blocks from parts our own local authority.

“We have fully addressed all concerns raised, to date, and now call on the planning committee of CNES to approve our application, without delay, and help give our village and outlying areas the new lease of life they deserve.

“While we have encountered these difficulties, we would like to thank all the councillors who have supported us and spoken out in favour of our plans, thus far. We hope the much-needed benefit our project will bring to the community will speak for itself when councillors come to vote on our application.”

The group would like to ask all those who have already shown their support for their proposals to make representations to CNES calling for an immediate approval of the application so that the development of this community facility can progress.

Anyone wishing to contribute to this cause can write to Cllr Norman M MacLeod, Chair – Environment & Protective Services Committee, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Sandwich Road, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, HS1 2BW, or send an email to: nmmacleod@cne-siar.gov.uk