5 key questions at heart of Western Gateway school controversy

Angry Western Gateway residents left in the lurch over delayed plans for a school in their area have no clue when it will actually be built.

Families paid an extra £5,000 each on their new Dundee homes due to an agreement forged between council chiefs and developers.

But campaigners fear it could be years before work on the project begins due to a major funding snub from the Scottish Government.

Here are five key questions which lie at the heart of the controversy following crunch talks between campaigners and council leader John Alexander on Tuesday night.

1 – Why were residents asked to pay?

To help fund the new school, families moving into the Western Gateway area paid an extra four-figure “roof tax” when buying their houses.

The £5,000 sum was factored into house prices when residents were buying and was not an additional cost to be paid upfront.

Contributions from hundreds of families are therefore expected to cover a large chunk of the project, freeing up the council’s budget for other costly schemes.

It was hoped Holyrood would cough up the money for around half of the £21.8 million cost.

Dundee council leader John Alexander met with residents. Image: Alan Richardson.

It’s understood this approach is normal in many new build estates where new infrastructure for the community is being built.

But it means families in the area will feel cheated if they overpaid for their homes on the expectation a school would open down the line.

Construction of new homes in the area is still under way.

Once all 1,073 properties are completed, it’s expected the “roof tax” will have brought in £5.4 million.

The money is ring-fenced and can only be spent on the delayed school.

2 – Why did the government deny the school funding?

In October 2022, Dundee City Council applied to the SNP in Holyrood for funding from a programme designed to invest in schools.

A year on, the Scottish Government revealed the application had not been successful in a blow to local authority chiefs.

Yet no single, clear reason has been given for why the Western Gateway school missed out at the expense of other projects.

It’s understood pressures from inflation contributed to escalating construction costs.

For example, the price of the new East End Community Campus has soared by an eye-watering £40 million and will now cost £100 million.

Last week, Deputy First Minister Shona Robison – a Dundee MSP – defended her party’s decisions and said heavy investment had been made in schools.

But it remains unclear where funding will come from to cover the shortfall preventing construction from getting up and running.

3 – Who is to blame for the lack of a contingency plan?

At the heart of the row lies major questions over why the council bosses did not have a backup plan in place in case their funding bid was unsuccessful.

Dundee Labour MSP Michael Marra blamed the local authority for the debacle.

He said: “The real truth is that the problems here are of the council’s own making.

“They gambled everything on Scottish Government funding that has been refused and now inflation makes coming up with a Plan B much harder.”

bill batchelor
Bill Batchelor, chairman of the Western Gateway community group. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson.

Bill Batchelor, who chairs the Western Gateway campaign group, said council chief Mr Alexander appeared to be throwing Holyrood “under the bus” for not supporting the project.

Mr Alexander emphasised his disappointment at the government’s decision and warned the council’s current financial position is precarious.

His SNP council colleague Stewart Hunter, convenor for children and families, said the administration understands the anger of residents.

Dundee Councillor Stewart Hunter. Image: DC Thomson.

He told us: “We listened to their concerns and frustrations. We can see where they’re coming from.

“One thing for us is learning from what’s happened in the past and making sure we can deliver a school for the community.”

4 – What if residents want their money back?

As part of the agreement with developers, residents could push to get their money back as soon as 2025 if plans to build the school do not progress.

Campaigners emphasised most families remain determined for the project to get the green light, but all options will be considered if no work is done.

Households who forked out their £5,000 tax would not automatically need to get their cash back if the council can still deliver the education facility at a later date.

While the money is currently held by Springfield Properties, residents expect they would be compensated in a worst-case scenario.

Mr Batchelor previously said: “As far as the committee’s concerned, we want the school. But if you don’t get commitment, then people will want their money back.”

5 – What happens next?

The future of the project remains up in the air with no firm commitments given as to when exactly the school can be built.

It was previously hoped the school would open by 2026, but major doubts remain as to whether this is now viable.

Mr Hunter said local authority staff will spend December and January exploring possible funding options.

SNP education chief Jenny Gilruth. Image: Chris Sumner/DC Thomson.

The city’s SNP administration is also working to arrange a meeting with SNP education chief Jenny Gilruth.

Local SNP MSP Joe FitzPatrick, who serves in Humza Yousaf’s government, is involved in the process.

He said: “I remain committed to working collaboratively with the community group and the council to find a solution.”

But Mr Batchelor said: “We shouldn’t have to wait another two months for officers to look at the options – there should have been contingencies there in the first place.”

Mr Marra added: “These families are also frustrated about the complete lack of clarity on what happens next.

“The excuses and the delay tactics have to stop. This community needs the school they were promised.”


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