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From swooping gulls to creaking schools: Five challenges awaiting Moray councillors after their summer break

Elected members will have their hands full with myriad issues ranging from financial pressures to tackling the urban gull menace.

Aerial view of St Giles Church in centre of Elgin.
Addressing illegal parking and the urban gull menace in Elgin are just two of the challenges facing Moray councillors as they return from their summer break. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Moray councillors will return to the chamber this month following their summer recess.

And they will have their hands full with a myriad of issues ranging from financial  pressures to tackling the urban gull menace.

Here are five things they will have to deal with over the coming months.

The budget

Work will begin in earnest to put together a budget for 2024/25, as the council needs to find around £20 million in savings over the next two years.

In March £14.77 million from Covid reserves and a 5% increase in council tax bringing in around £1 million were voted through to balance the books.

Kathleen Robertson, one of the Moray Councillors
Moray Council leader Kathleen Robertson. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

However Conservative council leader Kathleen Robertson warned at the time that a “significant increase” in the amount of money coming from Scottish Government needed to be forthcoming or local authorities will be looking at a “bleak” future.

Building two new secondary schools

Adding to the financial pressures is a Scottish Government delay in announcing whether funding will be available to help replace two secondary schools.

Forres Academy was chosen as the council’s priority project when a bid was made to the phase three of the Scottish Government Learning Estate Investment Programme in November. It could cover up to 50% of the multimillion pound project.

Exterior view of Forres Academy.
Forres Academy is Moray Council’s priority project for replacement. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

An application was also submitted to replace Buckie High School. However many months on from the application deadline, no announcement has been made.

Regardless of the funding bid outcome, the council still has a responsibility to bring its school buildings up to an acceptable standard. And that means replacing both schools whether or not government funding comes to fruition.

Future of Findrassie Primary School

In January councillors decide to shelve plans to build a new primary school in the north of Elgin

Rises in inflation, construction costs and for council borrowing all added to the decision to put work on the 450 pupil Findrassie Primary on hold.

A predicted fall in the numbers of pupils attending the four Elgin Academy associated school group primaries means there could be around 230 spare places available by 2030.

The plans for Findrassie Primary in Elgin
Plans to build Findrassie Primary in Elgin have been put on hold. Image: EMA Architecture Design Limited

Pupils numbers are expected to drop at West End from 191 to 144 and at  Bishopmill from 386 to 364. East End will see a rise from 163 to 186 which is within its functional capacity.

However Seafield will see numbers grow from 362 to 510, taking the primary to near full capacity.

And with more families moving into the Findrassie housing development where hundreds of homes are yet to be built, schools could be squeezed.

Councillors are expected to reconsider the prospects for the primary early next year.

However the Scottish Government has agreed that finding to build Findrassie can be used instead for an extension at Elgin High School.

Illegal parking in Elgin

Cars left on double yellow lines and delivery vans parked on pavements have been an issue in Elgin town centre for years.

With no wardens on patrol Police Scotland is left to deal with law-breakers, with many preferring to chance a fine rather than pay for parking.

In January councillors unanimously agreed a car park charge freeze in Elgin.

Cars parked illegally in Elgin town centre
Illegal parking has been a problem in Elgin town centre for years.

Since then discussions have been held with elected members, the emergency services, community groups and business organisations to find solutions.

And a report will come before council in the autumn with actions and recommendations that could hopefully end Elgin’s illegal parking woes for good.

Solution to Elgin gull problems?

Another constant issue for people living in Moray’s largest town is its urban gull population.

But there are hopes sonar devices have prevented many of the birds from breeding.

Elgin Common Good Fund spent £15,000 to have eight machines installed.

The move followed a trial carried out by Elgin Bid last year.

A large amount of gulls at Doocot Park
Gulls at Doocot Park. Image: DC Thomson

A sonic device placed on top of the St Giles Centre on the High Street saw the number of nests fall from 100 to six.

The machines have now been removed, and findings will be reported to the council in the next few weeks.

A decision can then be taken on whether to fund the devices again next year.