A rural partnership has lost its appeal against refusal of an asset transfer bid for ownership of Inverurie’s former Market Place Primary School.
A first-ever sitting of Aberdeenshire Council’s new Community Empowerment Appeals Committee agreed with the original decision of the Garioch Area Committee made back in August last year.
But despite the decision, The Garioch Partnership can still appeal to Scottish Ministers to progress its plans for a community hub in the heart of the town.
Councillors on the appeals committee heard on Wednesday that the local authority had accepted it made an error in the valuation of the former Inverurie school.
An initial value of £560,000 was deemed inaccurate having been calculated to take into account the adjacent playing field which was held on lease by the council until terminated back in October 2017.
A recent re-evaluation undertaken by Ryden now shows the school site is actually valued at £290,000.
The Partnership, which had offered £5,000 to purchase the premises given the significant repair costs involved, felt its asset transfer request had been refused primarily on the inacurate grounds of value of the asset.
However, the appeals committee deliberated the four reasons for refusal and – with the exception of one majority vote – unanimously supported the Garioch area members’ decision.
In terms of the valuation, Councillor Andy Kille said even with the revised figure, the £5,000 offered by the Partnership was still only 2% of the value. The committee agreed with his view that the original decision was correct in that the offer would result in a “significant loss of an asset” with no demonstrable community benefit.
The Partnership also appealed the decision on the council’s alternative proposal for the site as a car-park, the wider benefit and community need and demand.
Asked to consider if the council’s car-park requirement outweighed the Partnership’s proposal, a majority of councillors said it would.
Councillor Iain Sutherland maintained a car-park would offer a wider benefit to the whole of Aberdeenshire and not just local users of a community hub.
Councillor Geva Blackett disagreed, saying she was not convinced the car-park would have a wider benefit and argued the good work a community hub would do in the town.
But in terms of benefit and community need and demand, the committee unanimously supported the original decision of refusal.
Committee chair Councillor Peter Argyle said there was a need for more than “enthusiasm and commitment” for such a high-risk costly refurbishment project, particularly given the current economic climate.
In terms of demand, he also pointed out that the new Inverurie Campus would offer additional accommodation for community purposes.
That view was supported by Councillor Norman Smith who said there were other means to housing community activities without creating this new facility.
In his closing remarks, Councillor Argyle echoed the feelings of the committee in saying he had a great regard for the work of The Garioch Partnership and applauded the work they have done.
He hoped the team would look at other sites for its initiative, with the focus on a more “modest and less demanding” project.
Commenting on the decision, group chairman John Chapman said: "The Garioch Partnership are aware of the refusal of the appeals board at Aberdeenshire Council on Wednesday.
"We still await the decision notice content and the reason for refusal before we will decide on our future course of action."