Cost of new Midlothian school doubles in 18 months

Thursday June 29th 2023

Beeslack High School Midlothian Replacement

Artist's impression of the New Beeslack High School which will be off Bush Farm Road at Easter Bush.


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

The cost of a new Midlothian high school which will include its own swimming pool has doubled in 18 months, leaving council officers looking for an extra £61 million to build it.

Questions were asked about the rising costs of the Beeslack replacement school at a meeting of Midlothian Council this week after one councillor said the increase ‘beggared belief’.

However officers recommendations that the council drop plans for a swimming pool, sports pavilion and community facilities as well as building the school to Passivhaus ‘green’ standards to cut the costs were dismissed by elected members.

Council leader Kelly Parry (SNP) put a motion to elected members which was seconded by Conservative Councillor David Virgo, which called for the leisure facilities to remain in the project and asked officers to look at ways to recoup the costs in other ways such as developer contributions or phasing the construction over a number of years.

She told the meeting: “This school is going to be a fantastic asset for all of Midlothian.”

Councillor Russell Imrie brought an amendment on behalf of the Labour group raising concerns about the rising costs and asking for a delay on the decision until August to allow alternative funding to be sought from Scottish Government and alternative proposals such as extending to current school to be considered.

Conservative councillor Peter Smaill pointed out that in previous years when other schools were built up to 70 per cent of funding came from Scottish Government but for the new project only 40 per cent was being provided outwith the council adding “of that only 17 per cent is from the Scottish Government”.

And Councillor Derek Milligan questioned how costs for the project had spiralled.

He said: “Eighteen months ago we had a report before us which had this school at just over £60 million. How is it now at nearly £120 million?

“Inflation is one thing but it is certainly not that, I mean this is ridiculous.

“The swimming pool was about a third of the price we are seeing in front of us now. It absolutely beggars belief.”

Councillor Milligan warned fellow members approving the new school at the current costs would take up most of the local authority’s capital plan funding and expressed fears it would lead to closures of other community facilities.

Referring to February’s budget proposals, he said: “Officers put in front of us proposals to close an array of community facilities and I want assurances that we are not going to approve this and be faced with this year, or next year, these (proposals) coming back to us which I have no doubt will include swimming pools.”

“What are we going to shut to pay for the facilities here? I want to know.”

Kevin Anderson, the council’s head of Place, said the distinction in costs had been looked at and there was a comparable school which the project was benchmarked against.

He said: “If we extract the things which have been added on here then it would bear comparable price.”

Mr Anderson admitted the council would need to find an additional £61m to fund the new school project with the community facilities.

However Councillor Colin Cassidy defended the rise in costs pointing out construction material had rocketed in price.

He said: “Just one example, the price of wood has gone up between 15 and 20 per cent in the last year.

“It is going up on a daily basis as are other building material. If we delay this project we can expect big inflationary rises.”

Councillor David Virgo added that delaying the school further for more reports “was becoming farcical”. And he pointed out the project had been revised to increase its size to meet the need for capacity.

He said: “It doesn’t surprise me the cost has gone up, I’d like it to be lower, we all would.

“I respect the concerns but it just means this school is not being built.”

The motion to approve the project with the swimming pool was approved by nine councillors, with seven voting for the delay and two abstentions.

Councillors also approved a £44m refurbishment for Penicuik High School with pupils decanted to Montgomery Park opposite the current school during the refurbishment.

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