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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 August 2005, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
Council abandons school closures
Rothiemay school banner
Rothiemay's school was threatened with closure
Campaigners are celebrating after plans to close up to 21 primary schools in Moray were abandoned.

Moray Council convener Eddie Coutts said he had been persuaded that the local authority should withdraw its 70m restructuring programme.

He said campaigners defending their local schools had presented a "laudable case" and praised parents for the "integrity" they had shown.

Delighted opponents hailed the decision as a victory for public opinion.

Education officials brought forward proposals to close small schools because of falling pupil numbers.

I believe we must at this time take due recognition of public opinion and withdraw the current school estate management options
Eddie Coutts
Council convener

An action group was set up to fight the cuts, arguing that the consultation process had been flawed.

Parents had planned to challenge the move in the courts and received the support of Tory peer Lord Laidlaw of Rothiemay.

The village school in Rothiemay, near to where the business tycoon grew up, was one of the schools threatened with closure.

However, Mr Coutts called a halt to the proposals at a council meeting on Wednesday.

He said he had already read and heard enough to make up his mind.

"I believe we must at this time take due recognition of public opinion and withdraw the current school estate management options," he said.

Public consultation

"It is of great credit to the local communities who have come together to defend their local schools - they have presented a laudable case on which I believe we should act.

"This is true public consultation."

Mr Coutts denied that the process followed by the council had been flawed, but said he was now able to evaluate the body of opinion and move forward.

They obviously realised that what they were doing was not the right way forward after such widespread opposition to the proposals
Owen Birnie
Campaigner

He said that waiting any longer to take the decision would merely have prolonged the uncertainty in communities.

"In the many discussions I have had with parents I have been impressed by the genuine integrity of their views," he added.

"They have told us that they consider their schools to be the heart of their communities - let us enhance that heart by utilising unused accommodation in schools to provide other public services, thus protecting the future of schools and communities."

But he added: "We are still faced with the situation that we have an over-capacity in many primary schools and we would rightly be criticised if we did not competently and adequately address that issue."

Possible closure

Lord Laidlaw said: "It is wonderful that the council have taken this viewpoint and I think it is the right decision.

"They were perhaps right in examining this option but it would have been absolutely dreadful for the rural communities as well as for the education of the children.

"It is extremely good news that an elected body is aware of the interests of the parents and the communities."

Campaigner Owen Birnie, whose son attends Rothiemay Primary School, said he was "delighted".

"I would imagine in the long term Moray Council will have to revisit the possible closure of some schools," he said.

"However, they obviously realised that what they were doing was not the right way forward after such widespread opposition to the proposals."


SEE ALSO:
Tycoon funds parents' legal move
22 Jul 05 |  Scotland
Peer pumps cash into Moray school
19 Apr 05 |  Scotland


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