Aberdeen City Council could launch legal action against a leading housebuilder in a row over contributions for a new £25 million school.
Countesswells Development Limited (CDL) has transferred land for a new primary, but is still believed to be around £3.2m behind on payments linked to the £800m housing scheme.
The firm, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Stewart Milne Group, is responsible for construction of much of the new town in the west of the city.
City councillors yesterday voted to authorise their legal team to turn to the courts, if talks with principal developer CDL over the backdated millions continue to stall.
In private, the resources committee voted to seek a “final resolution” with the firm after several unsuccessful attempts to find common ground – despite underlining their “resolve” to work with developers through “these challenging times”.
They also voted to press ahead with building the school regardless, after The Evening Express revealed fears the project could be scrapped altogether.
But CDL insisted that they have been working “co-operatively” with officers since the launch of the project and said they are “surprised” and “extremely disappointed” by the council’s approach.
Council fears it could ‘miss out’ on millions
Other developers on the site are up to date with their contributions, which are attached to planning permission for building the 3,000 homes in the western suburbs over the next decade.
Public plans for the new school – initially expected to be opened in August – revealed it would hold more than 400 pupils and include an all-weather pitch, parking, two separate playgrounds and an outdoor classroom.
Backed by the UK Treasury, the new community represents an £800m investment in housing and infrastructure, such as schools, health and leisure facilities, in the city.
A total of 750 of the units will be marketed as affordable.
City growth and resources convener councillor Ryan Houghton said the course of action would be taken if necessary to avoid losing “important” funding.
He said: “It is good that members of the committee agreed to continue with the construction of the school while looking at legal remedies over the non-payment of developer obligations.
“The school is very much wanted by the local community and we are committed to getting it built and we also do not want to lose out on the very important developer obligation funding.”
Committee members noted that although they are determined to work with developers during these “challenging times”, the delivery of infrastructure such as schools, and the timing of their delivery, is dependent on firms upholding their part of legal agreements.
CDL “surprised” and “extremely disappointed” by the council’s approach
The disputed Countesswells primary would be the first of three schools, with plans for another primary and secondary to be built at a later date.
CDL is the principal developer of the 3,000-home plans, and has already spent £80m on the project.
Last night a spokeswoman said the firm remained committed to fulfilling all developer obligations.
She said: “We are surprised and extremely disappointed by Aberdeen City Council’s approach when we have been working co-operatively and constructively with officers on finding a resolution for the much-needed primary school.
“Despite the prolonged downturn in the Aberdeen residential property market and the additional financial and other pressures posed by the pandemic which have resulted in lower than expected revenues for the site, CDL has invested over £80m in the new community, providing homes, including affordable housing, for over 300 families.
“We have also transferred the land, on which the school is to be built, to the council after investing significantly in servicing the 3.5 acre site with roads access and utilities.
“As a result, the new community, backed by a guarantee from HM Treasury, has won numerous national awards for the environment it has created and its innovation in relation to place-making.
“CDL remains committed to fulfilling its developer obligations and will continue to work with the council to ensuring these are met.”
Local primary school is “desperately needed”
Youngsters already living in Countesswells currently attend the former Hazlewood School, more than three miles away.
Public plans for the new school revealed it would hold more than 400 pupils and include an all-weather pitch, parking, two separate playgrounds and an outdoor classroom.
Martin Greig, a councillor for Countesswells, said there needs to be a change in attitudes as further delays with the project are causing “growing concern”.
He said: “Parents and wider community are keen to see the primary school built. The area desperately needs the school. The delay in moving forward with this is causing growing concern.
“I and colleagues opposed proceeding with the Countesswells development because this ambitious residential development lacked a suitable way to get the necessary infrastructure in place.
“The proposal was based on a rapid and considerable increase in population into the area.
“Before giving approval, more thought was needed to consider how the local amenities and services would be provided for residents.
He added: “Local schools are vital because they add so much to an area. It is unfair that Countesswells pupils have to be bussed three and a half miles to their primary school in Kings Gate.
“Locating a school so far away goes against council policy.
“It is not appropriate that pupils and families have to experience long distance travel arrangements to school could continue for an unspecified period into the future.
“This is not our vision for a pupil’s learning experience. School transport is an extra economic burden on the council.
“I understand that more parents are choosing to allocate their child at Airyhall Primary.
“There has to be a change of attitude. The needs of the existing residents and especially the young people have to come first.”