Moray Council has been urged to take action to repair its crumbling schools – or risk losing out on £30million of funding.
Councillors will be told today they need to commit to a long-term strategy to improve schools across the region, while also considering the predicted population boom.
The local authority has been battling to make its school estate fit for purpose, while also trying to balance its books.
Earlier this year, the Press and Journal revealed the repair bill was more than £150million.
And now a report by educational resources manager Nick Goodchild warns members of the children and young people’s committee that action must be taken now – not only to safeguard the education of thousands of youngsters, but also to protect £30million of developer obligations.
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He warns that the lack of future planning for the school estate means that the authority is unable to claim any of the cash, as it must be used for specified, agreed projects.
Mr Goodchild states: “The lack of a school estate strategy is also impacting the local development plan.
“Developer obligations of in excess of £30million are at risk if the council does not effectively plan for school estate provision.
“If a long-term strategy is not implemented, it is feared that the council would be unable to maximise external funding from developers and the school estate could deteriorate even further, causing unforeseen school closures.”
With hundreds of homes planned for Elgin, the authority is being urged to prepare for a rise in population – and any long-term schools strategy must ensure all youngsters have their needs met.
Councillor George Alexander, a former maths teacher, believes it is time for the region’s ageing schools to be brought up to standard.
He said: “I think it is hugely important for a long-term strategy to be produced for the school estate, but this has come years too late.
“Something should have been done to Moray schools 10 years ago, as we are not serving Moray young people as well as we should be.
“A number of things can be done to make the school estate better.
“This strategy will look at where the best sites for schools are, the capacity of schools, and there are many schools in Moray that are operating at less than 50%, so they need to be looked at as well.”
Recent figures published by the Scottish Government showed that less than a third of the 45 primary schools in the region have achieved at least the minimum “satisfactory” B-rating for the condition of the buildings, while six of the area’s eight secondary schools have also failed to make the grade.
East End Primary School in Elgin was the worst, receiving a D-rating, which means that the “economic life has expired” or there is a “risk of failure”.
Currently, significant financial discussions regarding new schools and school upgrades are made on a reactive basis, which does not always offer best value in terms of investment and improvement in education provision.
A Moray Council spokeswoman said: “One reason for asking the committee to consider some principles for the development of a school estate strategic plan at this stage is so that the council can effectively plan for future school estate provision and this can be taken into account in the preparation of the local development plan.
“An effective forward-looking strategy will ensure sites are identified in the right locations for new schools, ensuring that the land is valued at the correct level and appropriate developer obligations are secured for the future”.
Earlier this year, Moray Council was forced to hand back £168,000 of developer contributions after failing to spend it in time.
The authority was given the money by Springfield Properties 15 years ago under the condition that it was used for transport improvements.
However, it had to be returned – with added interest – after they failed to spend it by the August deadline.