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Flooding, price and transport: The big questions about the new Forres Academy answered

The decision has been described as the biggest in a generation to be made about the future of Forres.

Forres Academy sign.
The days left at the current Forres Academy are already counting down. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Proposals for the new Forres Academy have provoked heated debates in the town for and against the potential locations.

Moray Council started off with eight options and has now narrowed it down to two final candidates for residents to have their say on.

One is at Roysvale Park, next to Applegrove Primary School and near the current site, and the other is on the eastern outskirts of the town at Lochyhill next to the A96 Aberdeen to Inverness road.

Deliberations about which one to choose has focussed on a range of topics including flooding concerns, access to transport, traffic concerns and the cost of buying the new site.

The case for a new Forres Academy has become more urgent in the last year after potentially dangerous Raac concrete was confirmed at the school.

The Press and Journal has spoken to the council bosses in charge of the new Forres Academy project to ask them the big questions about the locations.

Why will one site for new Forres Academy cost £4m extra?

One of the most contentious points about the new Forres Academy project has been the revelation it will cost £4 million to buy the land for the Lochyhill site.

Some have accused Moray Council of revealing the figure in an attempt to encourage people back the Roysvale location because it is cheaper.

The additional cost is due to the Lochyhill site, which is currently used for farming, being owned by multiple private landowners while the Roysvale site is owned by the council and local common good fund.

Andy Hall mid conversation with books on shelves behind.
Andy Hall, Moray Council’s acting head of education resources. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Andy Hall, Moray Council’s acting head of education resources, explained it was important to be up-front about costs to allow an informed decision to be made.

He added: “The construction costs for both is broadly the same but the differential is the land acquisition.

“With the Lochyhill site we will be the first developer on the land, so there will also be a requirement to improve the roads, both from the A96 and access roads.”

Where are the two sites?

Forres map showing school locations in red.
The Lochyhill site is currently farmland. Image: Moray Council
Layout of Lochyhill site
Proposed layout of Lochyhill site. Image: Moray Council
Layout of Roysvale site
Proposed layout of Roysvale site. Image: Moray Council

What about flooding concerns about Roysvale Park in Forres?

Concerns about repeated flooding in Roysvale Park have been raised since it emerged as a potential location.

Residents say they are worried drainage issues there could affect any new build on the land.

Nick Molnar, who attended the consultation, said: “It’s an incredibly serious question. The people planning it need a real long-term solution.

“I’m not coming at it from wanting a Nimby (not in my back yard) answer. It’s not about me preferring it, it’s making sure there’s an answer to a structural engineering question.”

Nick Molnar scrutinising boards in Forres Town Hall.
Nick Molnar scrutinising information boards about the new school. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Mr Hall accepted the Roysvale site had a historical flooding issue, but explained the Lochyhill site also had issues that needed addressed.

He said: “With these projects we design them to be able to withstand a one-in-200-year event, so it’s a very high standard.

“Both sites will need a robust drainage plans and they will be taken forward as part of the design process.”

Worries about traffic concerns at Roysvale site

Residents near Roysvale Park have raised concerns the existing road network won’t be able to cope with the new Forres Academy and Applegrove Primary being so close.

Initial drawings show a coach drop-off zone at the school.

However, the school car park itself will be the opposite side of a football pitch and running track, raising concerns drivers will instead opt for on-street options.

Pearl Smart and Gordon Masson looking at camera.
Pearl Smart and Gordon Masson. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Gordon Masson and Pearl Smart, who run a business near the site, fear there will be significant congestion in the area.

Mrs Smart said: “Extra traffic needs parking. At the moment it’s already very busy and if you’re going to have two schools in the one place, then that’s going to be double.”

Moray Council says a traffic survey will be done ahead of any planning permission being submitted for the chosen site.

Will there be school transport to Forres Academy at Lochyhill?

Some parents attending the consultation event last week had questions about school transport to the Lochyhill site.

The location is on the eastern boundary of the town and is about a two-and-a-half-mile walk from the southern edge.

Moray Council says that it will continue to adhere to the two-mile policy for pupils to be eligible to get transport.

Forres Academy consultation event.
Forres residents have been having their say on the new school site. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

The only exception to this at the moment is for Elgin Academy and Elgin High School, where a three-mile limit applies.

A Moray Council statement reads: “If a pupil has more than two miles to walk to reach Forres Academy, they will be granted transport under the current policy.

“With the Lochyhill site this would see some residential properties to the south of the town (along the Grantown Road) potentially entitled to council provided transport to the new secondary school.”

How big will the new Forres Academy be?

The new school will have an indicative capacity of 1,240 pupils, an increase of 119 from the current Forres Academy.

A final capacity will be established during the final design phase.

No designs will be prepared until a site has been chosen. Both locations are about six hectares in size.

Exterior of Elgin High School
The final design is expected to be similar to Elgin High School, pictured, and Lossiemouth High School. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Why can’t Forres Academy just be kept in the same place?

One option ruled out by Moray Council is building a new school on the current site as Forres Academy.

Mr Hall explained that project would involve building a temporary school for lessons while the work was ongoing, making it too expensive.

‘Biggest decision in a generation for Forres’

Moray Council’s children’s and leisure services committee chairwoman Kathleen Robertson, who is a Forres councillor, does not underestimate the significance of the upcoming decision for the town.

However, she has stressed that the educational benefits for pupils must also play a factor in the equation.

Moray Council leader Kathleen Robertson feels she has no option but agree a 100% council tax increase on second homes. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson
Kathleen Robetson says the school decision is extremely important to Forres as a whole. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

She said: “It’s the biggest decision in Forres for a generation, and it’s important it’s made with the head and not the heart. 

“It’s important we look at all the relevant figures, including the financial information, but also more importantly the education benefits in the long-term.”

What happens next?

Moray Council officers have already run its own exercise, which selected Roysvale as the preferred option based on 14 categories, including flood risk, expansion options and transport.

However, the local authority has stressed the decision about the new Forres Academy location remains dependent on the views of the local community.

A consultation remains ongoing with responses to an online survey accepted until Thursday. The survey can be accessed online HERE, or in person at Forres post office or Forres Library.

Recommendations will then be made to councillors for a decision to be made by May 22.

Forres Academy is expected to be open in its new location by December 2027.