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High school at Countesswells axed despite warnings it could spark downward spiral for ‘new town’ development

A replacement Hazlehead Academy is being driven forward to instead serve the new houses. But will the lack of a school further hamper the project?

The Countesswells site remains in limbo, and now looks unlikely to have a high school.
The Countesswells site remains in limbo, and now looks unlikely to have a high school. Image: Shepherd Chartered Surveyors

Axing a high school at Aberdeen’s Countesswells development could spark a disastrous domino effect putting its entire future at risk, it has been warned.

The £800 million “new town” has been plunged into doubt since developers CDL went into administration two years ago.

About 900 homes have been built in the community since construction began in 2015.

And the council is tied to building a secondary at Countesswells when the 1,000th home is up.

Pupils, parents, staff and councillors celebrated the official opening of the new £20.5m Countesswells School in April. These children will be attending secondary school at Hazlehead. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

But there is no indication on when, if ever, it will have the 10,000 population originally envisaged.

And council leaders warn pupils could end up roaming barren halls with barely any classmates, as there could be as few as 100 children attending.

With the site still in limbo, councillors have now voted against building the promised secondary school there.

Phase one of the development, seen here under construction in 2017. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

This came despite warnings that the facility had been something of a “selling point” for the hundreds who have already bought new homes.

The council’s education committee has instead driven forward plans for a 1,600 pupil replacement for Hazlehead Academy.

They are proceeding with the project on the proviso that the Countesswells high school won’t be built, and children from the delayed development will go there instead.

Could axing Countesswells high school spark downward spiral?

Labour councillor Kate Blake raised grave concerns that this could jeopardise future investment in the “new town” – leaving it a “dormitory village” instead.

She said it could discourage developers from creating the shops and other amenities earmarked for Countesswells.

Aberdeen Labour councillor Kate Blake pictured outside the Holy Family RC Primary School. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

The Kingswells, Sheddocksley and Summerhill member stressed that she wasn’t opposed to replacing the current downtrodden Hazlehead Academy.

But she pleaded with her colleagues not to throw out the Countesswells plan at the same time.

What if building resumes?

She said: “I drive or cycle through several times a week, and I see how little things are moving forward…

“Even at the homes which are being built, I counted about half-a-dozen workmen.

“I understand the rate of building is slow.

“But we have no idea if this slower rollout will continue longer term, if the economy picks up or there’s a change in the status of the development company.”

A new Hazlehead Academy could come at the expense of the new Countesswels development, as it remains in limbo.

‘If we pick at threads, then the fabric falls apart’

The education committee was urged “not to rule out” the Countesswells school, amid warnings it could topple other parts of the masterplan vision.

Mrs Blake added: “If it’s not built, then shops and other employment opportunities could be affected.

“If we start picking at individual threads, the fabric starts to fall apart.

“The 20-minute neighbourhood becomes a dormitory village, with few services. This is about building a sustainable community for the future.”

An outline of the development area at Countesswells before the work got under way.

Labour colleague Ross Grant agreed: “We are running the risk of this community not being given what was set out.”

Children’s chocolate hunt highlights family-friendly area

Mrs Blake recounted a recent anecdote as she highlighted that Countesswells is proving “attractive” to young families.

She explained that her son and his pals zoomed straight to the new development when out guising on Halloween.

“He did not focus on the 1970s housing estate he lives in, they zoned in on the new build nearby,” she announced to chuckles in the chamber.

“That’s where the families live – and that’s where the chocolate was.”

Children on a search for Halloween treats went to Countesswells. Image: Shutterstock

While noting her method was “not scientific in the slightest”, the councillor stressed that it showed the sort of population likely to take shape there.

What will happen if work at Countesswells ‘speeds up’?

There are also concerns the new Hazlehead Academy might not be big enough, with questions around what would happen if housing plans nearby “accelerate”.

Mrs Blake said: “The two developments within the catchment area are going quite slowly, at Countesswells and Maidencraig…

“When we look at the predicted roll of a new Hazlehead Academy in 2027, it’s not that far from what we are building to there.

“Are we confident that, if those developments speed up, the capacity is right?”

Countesswells is a new town on the western edge of Aberdeen, the brainchild of housebuilding tycoon and former Aberdeen FC chairman Stewart Milne.

Quality improvement manager Mark Jones said the council was “as confident as it can be at this stage”.

He added: “If it speeds up, it will still be where we expect it to be.”

What do you think of the change of plan? Let us know in our comments section below

Bid to ‘delay progress’ on badly-needed school slammed

And a “frustrated” Martin Greig blasted the “attempt to delay” the new Hazlehead Academy plans.

The Liberal Democrat education convener said the current building scores poorly for its condition and “suitability”, and urgently needs replaced.

Council education convener Martin Greig addressed the concerns about the school roll and the looming difficulties in fitting children from the same family in the same schools. Image: Norman Adams/Aberdeen City Council.
Council education convener Martin Greig. Image: Norman Adams/Aberdeen City Council.

He added: “We need to move forward with this project.

“And I am thinking of the young people in the Countesswells new town too, who currently attend Hazlehead Academy – a school rated badly.

“I want them to have the best possible school.”

Mr Greig said attempts to tweak the plans could “set them back years.”

What is the case FOR removing Countesswells high school from masterplan?

Mr Greig argued that the recently opened Countesswells primary is only at a “third of its capacity”, having been built when the 500th house was completed.

Work on the first tranche of homes. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

“What happens if the same thing happens with the secondary school?”, he asked.

“What if the number of houses only generates enough to fill a third of the capacity there too?

“It’s not realistic, it’s not sustainable and it’s not right for the young people of Countesswells.”

What next for new school plans?

Ultimately, the committee voted to progress plans for the new Hazlehead Academy, with the catchment area extended to include Countesswellls and Kingswells.

Only 47 children from Countesswells are on the high school roll at the existing Hazlehead building.

The proposals will now be put to the public, who have already told us they would like to see a swimming pool feature at the new school.

The replacement Hazlehead Academy would be built on the playing field of the existing school, with an expected 2027 opening date.

The Scottish Government revealed has pledged to pump an “eight-figure sum” into the city’s first “green school”. 

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