_________________________________________________________________________________________________Edition 306 May 18 ~ May 24 2013
* Questions over councillors’ ‘interest’ in schools proposal
* Auchenharvie meeting opposes schools merger
* Sticker vandalism still a problem
* Another surge in unemployment
* Fighting back against cervical cancer – Suzanne’s story
* Senior citizens value their bus pass
* Report excessive surcharges
* Junior Football – Results, League Tables, Fixtures
Bought and sold for English gold
* Then and Now
* Scottish weather
* Invisible mending
* The David Brent of North Ayrshire Council
* Scaremongering anti-independence campaign
* Number 1s
* Where Am I?
* Where Is It?
- News stories throughout the week.
Questions over councillors' 'interest' in schools proposal
Controversy deepened this week over North Ayrshire Council’s plans to merge two local secondary schools on a site in Ardrossan, after an investigation by the3towns revealed two of the local authority’s most senior councillors may have failed to disclose potential conflicts of interest.
Last week the3towns broke the news that the Council had entered into discussions with representatives of the Memorial Field, which is owned by a Trust acting in the interests of Ardrossan Academicals Rugby Club. The field, directly opposite Ardrossan Academy on Sorbie Road, contains a clubhouse and pitches used for rugby, hockey and cricket.
The formal consultation document issued by the Council indicates the preferred site for a merged Three Towns campus, bringing together pupils from Auchenharvie Academy in Stevenston and Ardrossan Academy, is the current location of the Ardrossan school. However, Council officials have confirmed that talks are taking place with Trustees of the Memorial Field to see if it would be ‘mutually beneficial’ for the new school to be built on the rugby pitches, with the club then transferring across to the current site of Ardrossan Academy.
Benefits identified by the Council include that the new school could be built without Ardrossan Academy pupils having to decant to Auchenharvie during the construction, while a new clubhouse and pitches would be provided for the rugby club on the site of the current Ardrossan Academy once the buildings had been demolished and cleared.
According to the Council, the initial approach regarding the possibility of such a deal was made by representatives of the rugby club and discussions are at an early stage. However, as the statutory public consultation period on the proposed schools merger does not close until June 14, the official position of North Ayrshire Council is that no decision has been taken on whether or not the two academies should be merged, far less where the site of a new school would be.
Despite the ‘official’ position, though, the Council’s consultation document makes clear the SNP administration favours a new school and that it should be built on the site of Ardrossan Academy – the document was apparently issued prior to the discussions regarding the possible use of the Memorial Field.
The local authority’s ruling SNP Cabinet agreed its position after receiving a report from officials at a meeting held on March 26. At Appendix 1A of the ‘Report on Statutory Consultation’, reasons for choosing the Ardrossan Academy site over Auchenharvie included, under a heading of ‘Educational Impact’, the opportunity to develop “War Memorial Field, rugby pitches (school of rugby excellence), cricket club and hockey club”. Also, under ‘Other land ownership potential’, while Auchenharvie is listed as having “none”, for Ardrossan Academy the report states, “positive early discussions with the War Memorial Trust Committee has identified the opportunity to explore locating the sport and leisure element of the campus on the War Memorial Field.”
The decision of the SNP Cabinet, as recorded in the official minute of the meeting, states, “The existing Ardrossan and Auchenharvie sites were short-listed, with the Ardrossan Academy site identified as the preferred location for the campus for the reasons outlined in the report.”
The decision of the Cabinet was agreed and ratified without dissent at the next meeting of the full Council, held on May 8. The official minute of the meeting shows no councillor declared an interest in that agenda item.
However, the3towns can reveal that the leader of the Council, SNP councillor Willie Gibson, was formerly a Trustee of the War Memorial Field and that his Register of Interest records the date he notified the Council of his resignation from that position was May 13. This would appear to be almost two months after the SNP Cabinet received the Report on Statutory Consultation, in which it was recorded the local authority had taken part in “positive early discussions with the War Memorial Trust” regarding the possibility of using the Memorial Field for “the sport and leisure element of the campus”.
There is no suggestion that Cllr Gibson took part in any such discussions, nor was he in attendance when his SNP colleagues received the report at Cabinet on March 26. However, as Leader of the Council, Willie Gibson did attend the full Council meeting on May 8, at which the Cabinet decision was agreed and ratified. The date of the meeting was prior to that on which it is recorded Cllr Gibson advised the Council he had resigned his position as Trustee of the War Memorial Field. As Leader of the administration taking forward a decision based partly on “positive early discussions with the War Memorial Trust”, it may have been appropriate for Cllr Gibson to have declared an interest – that he was a Trustee of the War Memorial Field - when the minutes of the Cabinet meeting were moved at the full Council.
the3towns can also reveal that in February, at a Workshop for councillors - held to discuss the school merger proposals and options – members were asked if any of them had met with representatives of Ardrossan Academicals. In response, Cllr Peter McNamara, Leader of the Labour Group, stated he’d had such a meeting. However, it is understood Cllr McNamara said he attended the meeting in a private capacity and declined to reveal what had been discussed.
Peter McNamara also attended the meeting of North Ayrshire Council on May 8, at which the minute of the SNP Cabinet decision was agreed and ratified in relation to identifying Ardrossan Academy as the preferred site for a new Three Towns school campus, based partly on “positive early discussions” with representatives of Ardrossan Academicals. Cllr McNamara’s decision to not declare an interest in the matter appears to indicate his belief that his meeting with representatives of Ardrossan Academicals did not have any bearing on matters relating to issues contained in the report.
On a separate issue, it can be revealed that Memorial Field Trustees had earlier attempted to amend the area’s Local Development Plan to change the designation of the field from ‘open space’ to allow a housing development. At the time, the application by the Trust indicated such a development on part of the Memorial Field would generate funding to allow the construction of a new pavilion and improved sports facilities.
The application was rejected after North Ayrshire Council, as the Planning Authority, responded that, “the representee’s justification is insufficient” and that “reallocation from ‘Open Space’ to ‘Housing’...would set undesirable precedent for further unjustified loss of open space elsewhere.”
On February 7 this year, the Ardrossan Memorial Field Fund received a grant of £7,372 from the Big Lottery Fund to “undertake a Feasibility Study into the future use of the Ardrossan Memorial Field Fund sports grounds and clubhouse”.
Auchenharvie meeting opposes schools merger
A packed meeting in Auchenharvie Academy last Tuesday evening (May 14) saw local parents make clear their opposition to a controversial plan by North Ayrshire Council that would see the Stevenston school merged with Ardrossan Academy and two schools for children with additional needs – James McFarlane School in Ardrossan and Irvine’s Haysholm School.
The local authority’s SNP Cabinet member for Education, Cllr Tony Gurney, was listened to politely as he set out his administration’s case for merging the schools on a site in Ardrossan. However, when the meeting was opened-up for questions from the audience, it soon became clear Cllr Gurney and his officials from the Education department were in for a hard time.
One parent immediately questioned the assertion that the merged school proposal would create a community hub, saying, “Community hub – is that for Ardrossan? You’re taking away the community hub in Stevenston.”
The angry parent then complained that no-one had asked the opinion of people in Stevenston, and called for a show of hands from those who wanted to retain Auchenharvie Academy. The response saw hands raised by almost everyone present.
Cllr Gurney reiterated that the public meeting was part of the consultation where everyone involved was being asked their opinion.
However, another parent said, “I hear you are going to buy a new clubhouse for Ardrossan Accies,” a reference to the story broken last week by the3towns in which we revealed the Council was in discussions with Trustees of the Memorial Field in Ardrossan about possibly building the proposed merged school on pitches currently used by the rugby club, with the Accies moving onto new facilities across the road on the current site of Ardrossan Academy.
Tony Gurney responded, “There is no deal in place with Ardrossan Accies. We are currently carrying out a consultation, which means we haven’t decided to build a new school and we haven’t decided on a site.”
The SNP councillor added, “The administration believe we should build a new school and that Ardrossan Academy is the preferred site.”
A member of the audience stated his opinion that Auchenharvie was the obvious site for a new school, given the adjacent sports pitches, swimming pool, ice rink and golf course, but Cllr Gurney responded that these facilities were not on the school curriculum, before noting the feeling of people in Ardrossan was also that the new school should be located in their town. However, a woman called-out, “Excuse me, I live right next to Ardrossan Academy and I would rather it was here [at Auchenharvie].”
Tony Gurney said, “We have looked at the numbers, in terms of travel, and Ardrossan is nearer for the majority of pupils.” But this statement provoked an angry response, with one parent pointing out, “Your own figures show the roll for Auchenharvie is set to continue rising while the roll for Ardrossan Academy will fall. So why are you wanting Stevenston pupils to travel to Ardrossan?”
In response to another point that suggested both academies could be refurbished and retained, Cllr Gunrey said, “We’re skint [North Ayrshire Council]. If we don’t build the new school there will be no money for upgrades.
“When we got the offer of so much money from Edinburgh [£22m from the Scottish Government], I found it hard to turn down.”
Another parent wanted to know why the Council plan was to build new facilities at Ardrossan, when they already existed at Auchenharvie and could be expanded. Cllr Gurney replied, “There are mineworkings under where we are sitting tonight. If we were to build here we would need to pour hundreds and hundreds of concrete into shafts.”
From the audience, Saltcoats & Stevenston Labour councillor Alan Munro condemned the SNP administration’s decision to identify an Ardrossan site as the preferred location of the proposed merged school, stating, “This is a political decision. The whole [SNP] Cabinet want it in Ardrossan.”
To cheers and applause from parents, Cllr Munro continued, “The perfect site to put it is here,” adding, “but they don’t want it here, so it isn’t going here.”
Regarding Cllr Gurney’s assertion about mineworkings at Auchenharvie and the requirement to fill shafts with concrete, Alan Munro said, “That’s bull.”
However, Tony Gurney replied, “I am disappointed in Councillor Munro and in particular his use of the word bull, as if he hadn’t been in the meetings where architects told him we would have to pour in concrete.”
Returning to the issue of a new school in Ardrossan providing a ‘community hub’, one parent said, “There is already a community hub at St Matthew’s Academy, so you want to create two community hubs for Saltcoats and Ardrossan within half-a-mile. What about a community hub for Stevenston? If you take the school away you take the heart out of the community.”
There was support for the merger, though, with one younger member of the audience saying, “I’m in touch with around 400 people who go to the two schools. They are excited about the social interaction that would happen with schools coming together. They are looking forward to the unification of the Three Towns and a new school.”
The young man continued, “It’s parents that are saying, ‘could we not just keep the old facilities’, but pupils couldn’t care less where the school is.”
However, the contribution produced a shouted enquiry of “How much are you getting paid by the Council?”
Other concerns raised included the volume of traffic and numbers of pupils that would be forced into a small residential area on a daily basis if a new super-school was built virtually adjacent to St Matthew’s Academy, which was opened in 2007 after St Andrew’s Academy in Saltcoats and Kilwinning’s St Michael’s Academy were merged. In addition, parents were worried that their children would be educated in port-a-cabins while a new school was being built, which they feared could negatively impact on their crucial exam years.
Regarding the issue of the new school possibly being built on the Memorial Field currently owned by a Trust appointed by members of Ardrossan Academicals Rugby Club, Council official Lynn Taylor explained, “The Trust approached the Council and we are having very early, non-commital discussions.
“Information from those discussions will be published in the final report on the consultation process.”
Cllr Tony Gurney reiterated the SNP administration’s position that the schools merger proposal and building a new facility in Ardrossan were in the best interests of all pupils, and would prepare them educationally “for the jobs that are out there and the jobs that there will be in the future”.
The SNP councillor for Ardrossan & Arran added that the final decision on the matter would be taken by all 30 elected North Ayrshire councillors and that, in the meantime, any parent or local person who had concerns about what is proposed could contact him directly by phone, e-mail or post – details are available on the Council website.
The formal consultation process in relation to the proposal to merge Ardrossan Academy, Auchenharvie Academy, James McFarlane School and Haysholm School closes on June 14. Responses should be sent to Ms Carol Kirk, Corporate Director (Education & Skills) at Council headquarters in Irvine.
Sticker vandalism still a problem
The plague of vandalism that has seen stickers plastered over road and information signs in the Three Towns shows no sign of abating.
Stickers, initially supporting an organisation called the Blue Order, began appearing around a year ago. the3towns first reported on the problem when signs warning traffic to slow down on the approach to Caledonia Primary in Saltcoats were completely covered, leading to parents expressing fears for the safety of their young children.
Since then North Ayrshire Council has spent a considerable amount of taxpayers’ money removing the stickers from signs across the Three Towns – in some cases new signs had to be ordered as paintwork had been damaged beyond repair.
In December last year the same Blue Order slogans began to appear spray-painted on walls and public spaces, most of which have also now been removed by North Ayrshire Council at taxpayers’ expense.
However, the problem persists and now includes stickers naming other organisations supporting Glasgow Rangers and the British Union. The above photos, taken last week, include one showing a sign at Ardrossan Cemetery.
Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol has spoken in the past about the vandalism, pointing-out the mounting cost of removing the stickers and graffiti, which comes out of the cash-strapped Council’s very limited resources.
An elderly man who spoke to the3towns regarding the people who plastered stickers on the sign at Ardrossan Cemetery said, “They’re not real fans of the Rangers. Real fans wouldn’t tarnish the name of the team by doing that.”
Another surge in unemployment
There was no respite for the jobless of the Three Towns in new unemployment figures published last week by the Office for National Statistics.
Compared to the same period last year, unemployment in Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston has soared by a shocking 24% - with Saltcoats and the South Beach area both recording individual rises of 26% in the numbers of long-term unemployed, people who have been without work for more than 12 months. The comparative figures for Stevenston and Ardrossan were 20% and 25% respectively.
Local MP Katy Clark said the policies of the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government were not helping, adding, “Their refusal to change course on the economy is once again hurting the people of Three Towns, and across the country, who cannot find work. After three years of a Conservative-led Government, growth is downgraded, living costs are rising and long-term unemployment is blighting families and communities.”
Ms Clark, Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran, said the Queen’s Speech outlining government plans for the new session of parliament “should have focused on jobs and growth, but instead the Government yet again ignored an opportunity to take action.”
North Ayrshire continues to have one of the highest levels of unemployment in Scotland, including long-term and youth joblessness. In addition, parts of the Three Towns fall within the worst-affected areas in terms of multiple deprivation.
the3towns recently revealed that North Ayrshire Council is to ask both the Scottish and UK governments for additional help to tackle the area's chronic unemployment and poverty.
Fighting back against cervical cancer - Suzanne's story
Support Group Leader Suzanne Fernando is asking Three Towns residents to join her at a Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust sponsored Walk for Fun, after she, herself, overcame cervical cancer.
The annual sponsored 5k walks will be taking place across the UK on Saturday, June 15 and Ardrossan woman Suzanne will be leading a walk in Kilwinning’s Eglinton Park to mark Cervical Screening Awareness Week (June 9 - 15).
Following her own battle with the disease, Suzanne is hoping to raise awareness of the importance of attending regular cervical screening tests by volunteering as a walk leader for the charity.
The local woman took the time to tell the3towns her moving story:
“I was diagnosed with Cervical Cancer when I was pregnant - and almost died before I got a chance to hold my newborn baby girl.
“The nightmare began when doctors discovered a tumour the size of a tennis ball blocking little Aaron's arrival. They immediately delivered Aaron by C-Section - but I haemorrhage. My bed sheets were soaked in blood and doctors couldn't get the bleeding to stop.
“As my life slipped away, docs warned my partner to expect the worst as he stood helpless with our baby in his arms. He was left praying for a miracle - and fortunately for us, those prayers were answered.”
Suzanne continued, “My instincts told me all was not well. There is cancer on my Dad's side of the family and that’s what kept nagging away in my mind. But what choices did I have? Treatment at that time would have damaged my baby. I didn't want to face that, so I just retreated into myself and kept my fears secret.
“After months of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a last chance 24-hour bombardment of radiation directly onto the tumour, I was eventually in remission.
“I had sailed through a trouble free pregnancy with my first daughter, Jordan, but I have to admit, the minute I fell pregnant with Aaron, I felt very ill. I was sick all the time, I was in pain, I couldn't eat, and nothing could convince me that this was a normal pregnancy. When I was expecting Jordan, my partner and I backpacked to India just in time before settling down with children.
“I felt so well throughout the pregnancy, mind you I was always relatively fit and healthy having just spent almost seven years as a Military Policewoman in Her Majesty's Services.
“This time I thought, well no two pregnancies are the same. I remember my partner and I agreeing that there would be no more babies for us. I was dragging myself through the pregnancy. I couldn't wait for it to be over. Every now and then I'd start bleeding and end up in hospital. But I think because of the position of the tumour, it simply didn't show up.
“When I was eight months pregnant, I was back at hospital for the umpteenth time after bleeding. I've got a rare blood group - 'O' negative - so whenever I would take a bleed I'd have injections to stop the baby's blood being poisoned. This time the doctor said she was concerned because I'd been in so often, that she'd like to examine me further.
“Nothing was showing on scans so she examined internally. The pain was unbearable. Then she told me there was a growth the size of a man's fist in my cervix.
“I had a biopsy and had to stay in hospital for the results. That night was awful. I lay awake wondering what was going to happen to us.
“Next day they told me. I had Cancer, and because of the tumour, I wouldn't be able to deliver my baby normally. I was in shock.
“I was rushed into theatre for an emergency c-section. The baby was perfect. I was so relieved. But when I was in the recovery ward, my partner noticed that my bed was suddenly saturated in blood.
“The room was suddenly filled with nurses, but by then I was slipping in and out of consciousness.
“I vaguely remember nurses wrapping me up in silver foil. They were wrapping themselves around me too, trying to raise my body temperature. I was rushed back into theatre, and, after about two or three hours, the doctor came out and told my partner he was sorry but he couldn't stop the bleeding.
“He asked my partner to sign a form permitting them to give me a hysterectomy. My partner said they should do whatever was needed to save me.
“I spent a while in hospital while my partner looked after the girls. When I eventually did go home I was really worried about all the time I been apart from my girls, I hadn't had a proper chance to bond with my newborn.
“A bed was made up for me in the livingroom and I began my chemotherapy and radiation treatment the following week, just after New Year.
“Sadly, despite an intensive course of twenty treatments, the tumour was still there. I couldn't believe it, after all that, the cancer was still there.
“During this time my partner was giving me intensive healing through Crystals, (Kes is a fully qualified Holistic Crystal healer) and this helped immensely. His Sister, Al, would visit me (she is a qualified Reflexologist) and heal my body through healing to my feet, and a friend from Cancer Care came along weekly and gave me some hands on healing, all of which played a big part in my recovery, that I am positive of.
“I was then offered a 24-hour intensive course where they would bombard me with radiation non-stop using long metal rods directly onto the tumour.
“It was ghastly. I couldn't move for 24-hours but in the end the tumour had shrunk.
“To be honest, I think it was the nurses and doctors who kept me sane. When the tumour shrunk, I was still ill, but very, very happy.
“Along with the tumour, other organs had also shrunk and I needed more surgeries to repair the damage.
“I had ignored the little voice in my head which told me I had Cancer. Like many people, I didn't want to hear that because I knew that any treatment would seriously damage or kill my unborn baby. Today, though, I have two beautiful girls and a future.
“My daughter, Aaron, will celebrate her thirteenth birthday at Christmas, which will be an amazing experience for us all.
“I've since had to cope with more operations, skin grafts, scars, reconstructive surgery, arthritis and radiation damage and am continuing ongoing surgeries, but with my family by my side.........well, I made it, and later married my partner Kes Fernando on the tenth anniversary of the day we met - in a romantic ceremony at the Blacksmiths cottage in Gretna Green. Accompanied by our two girls and our friends, we tied the knot – and were overcome with emotion. We were not the only ones.
“It was the happiest day of my life, after all we have been through. Everyone was crying at the ceremony, it was a very emotional service. It was a beautiful day and very romantic.
“We all went onto enjoy a wedding celebration in Annan in cottages overlooking the Solway Firth, with the memories of darker days well behind us. We have come through a lot since we met in Blairgowrie in June 1995, when I had just left the military police to start work as a private investigator and met my portugese beau Kes. We all enjoyed the day, especially our girls Jordan and Aaron and it will be a day we will never forget.
“I've since continued to raise awareness, fundraise, make presentations at various clubs and organizations, and more recently started a cervical cancer support group here in Ayrshire on behalf of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.
“My daughters often join me at various events, they are as dedicated and passionate about cervical cancer as I am. They have a fantastic time at various events knowing how much we could be helping to save someone's life.
“I've since built my own business working with children, am currently writing my first book, continue to work alongside Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust and the Eve Appeal,and am continually raising funds and awareness throughout the year. I was Scotland's first Cancer Research UK Ambassador and am now a qualified Cervical Cancer Support Group Leader.
“I had the pleasure of being invited by my local MP Katy Clark to the 'International Women's Day' and meeting the Prime Minister at No.10 to discuss new policies on Cervical Screening and raising cervical awareness.
“I try as often as possible to gain media attention for my local Cancer Care organisations too. My main aim now is to introduce my new Cervical Cancer Support Group in Ayrshire.”
Suzanne explained the importance of the 5K walk, saying, “I know first-hand the impact a diagnosis can have on whole families, friends and colleagues. The walk is a great opportunity to get the community together and raise awareness of the disease as well as raising funds for Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, the UK’s only charity dedicated to women and the people close to them dealing with cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities.”
Robert Music, Director of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, added, “Every day, nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and three women will lose their battle with the disease. Yet cervical cancer is largely preventable thanks to the cervical screening programme, which saves around 5,000 lives every year. We cannot stress enough how important it is that women keep up to date with their tests.
“Walk for Fun is a fantastic opportunity for the community to come together, have fun and raise awareness of the disease at the same time.”
To support Suzanne’s efforts, for information or to sign-up for the Walk for Fun in Eglinton Park, on June 15, visit the Jo’s Trust website here.
Senior citizens value their bus pass
Local MSP Margaret Burgess says a new poll shows the vital role bus passes play in the lives of our elderly citizens.
Carried out by the respected charity Age UK, the poll revealed a whopping 93% of older people believe their ‘lives would be worse’ without their bus passes. Margaret Burgess backs the finding, saying it chimes with views expressed to her by elderly residents of local towns.
The MSP for Cunninghame South, which includes Stevenston, said, “These findings validate the SNP’s commitment to concessionary travel and ensuring that older people are able to remain independent and lead fulfilling lives.
“Older people in England made their opinion overwhelmingly clear to Age UK, the partner charity of Age Scotland. Having a bus pass allows people to travel independently and strengthen family and community ties, while enhancing their physical and mental well-being.”
The SNP MSP, who is also the Scottish Government’s Minister for Housing and Welfare, was scathing of an initiative announced earlier this year by the Scottish Labour Party , in which leader Johann Lamont MSP included bus passes in what she described as “a something for nothing culture” in Scotland. Mrs Burgess said, “It’s hard to believe that Labour has failed to support concessionary travel, after rallying behind Johann Lamont’s Cuts Commission, when there is such a widespread call for this travel scheme.
“The Scottish Government has long understood that the concessionary travel scheme is a lifeline to older people and it is our intention to continue to provide this vital service in Scotland.”
Katy Clark MP is giving her support to a recent ban on excessive surcharges levied by some companies, and she is asking her constituents to report organisations that break the new rules.
The ban on excessive surcharges for debit and credit card payments came into effect last month as a result of a two-year campaign from consumer champion Which? The initiative was supported by over 50,000 members of the public, and by Ms Clark.
The new law means that surcharges must reflect the actual cost incurred by companies when processing payments. Which? estimates this should be no more than 50p for payment by debit card, or 2% of the transaction fee if paying by credit card.
Katy Clark said, “It's good news that local people will no longer have to pay over the odds when paying by card – but, unfortunately, while most companies are playing by the rules, there are still some that aren’t. I encourage anyone who is charged too much for using their card to report it to Which?”
Richard Lloyd, Executive Director of Which? Added, “We’re pleased the ban on rip-off surcharges was introduced, but for it to be effective there must be a tough enforcement regime. Companies must also play fair and not pass costs onto customers in other ways. We will be monitoring the ban closely and want people to come forward and tell us about surcharges they think are excessive.”
Katy Clark, Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran, is urging constituents to visit www.which.co.uk/surcharges and report surcharges they believe are too high. Which? has said it will pass complaints it receives onto Trading Standards, which has responsibility for policing the ban.