Barra development plans to combine school and hospital welcomed as ‘extraordinarily important’ for the island

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Barra and Vatersay councillor, Donald Manford, has welcomed plans for the redevelopment of Castlebay School as part of a new integrated education, health and social care centre in Castlebay as being ‘extraordinarily important’ for the island, but has warned that the plans must not be allowed to cause delay in plans for the island’s new hospital.

Plans for the school to be included in a new multi-service centre on the same site as the islands’s proposed new hospital, have been developed as part of the Comhairle’s on-going Service Redesign process, and with funds committed from the Comhairle for development of the school.

Speaking at this week’s meeting of the Comhairle’s Education, Sport and Children’s Services Committee, Cllr Manford said: “This plan is very exciting and I conclude that it is not an exaggeration to say it is extraordinarily important. But, with all of this comes the anxiety, the biggest fear, that this will delay the hospital project that has been years and years in the waiting.

“I have received assurances that this will not delay the drive for the hospital to make its full business case. I am happy with the assurances I have received but I request that we keep up the rate of progress of the full business plan for the hospital, and that must not be undermined in anyway.”

Comhairle Convenor, Cllr Norman A MacDonald, supported Cllr Manford’s concerns stating: “We need to maintain pressure, and the Scottish Government needs to maintain pressure, on the health board to bring forward its action plan and to make sure that the plan and the finances are in place and that everything is going to work together.”

Loch a Tuath councillor, Donald Crichton stated: “This model is a test case for the what we are aspiring to in a single joint authority approach, and it is very exciting.”

Comhairle Leader, Cllr Roddie MacKay said: “The rapid progress that has been made with this is welcome. This is a brilliant project, a really exciting opportunity for a hugely improved service going forward.”

The report on the development plans for Castlebay School, stated that all Comhairle schools with the exception of Castlebay are now in ‘condition B category’, and have ‘benefited from considerable investment’.

Eight of twenty fours schools in the Comahirle area are now new buildings and in addition, according to the report: ’the scale of redevelopment at Leverhulme Memorial School is such that it would also qualify as a new build’.

But Castlebay Community School is the only school in the islands in a category C condition, recognised as being ‘in poor condition’ with ‘major challenges in providing an education fit for the 21st Century’.

The report claims that, as part of the Comhairle’s Community Conversation process, ‘the communities of Barra and Vatersay accepted that investment in Castlebay School required to be postponed until the 2018-2023 Capital Programme. Accordingly, Castlebay School is the priority for school investment by the Comhairle. It is now proposed to redevelop Castlebay School and a number of options have been considered. All options have focused on retaining elements of the school and integrating other services such as Further Education, The Third Sector, Early Years and some Comhairle functions’.

The Comhairle has set aside £7M of its capital funding for the new development which would have a combined total cost in the range £13M – £20M.

The committee accepted a proposal to advance the plans, and for the proposal to now be formally put to the Western Isles Health Board.