LAND deals for the new St Columba's and Woodmill high schools need to be in place now – before relocation has even been approved – to "have any chance" of them being built and opening on time.

Fife Council are in a hurry as they expect 2,640 pupils to be taught at the new £180 million Dunfermline Learning Campus from Autumn 2024 and councillors were briefed last week on moves to acquire a large area of the Shepherd Offshore site.

The relocation of the two high schools from Abbeyview to Halbeath has yet to get the go-ahead, a public consultation began this month and runs until September, but the local authority said they needed to "start the ball rolling" on land purchase agreements on the assumption it will.

Michael O'Gorman, service manager for estates, told councillors: "The transactions will only take place if the project is approved by the education and children's services committee.

"That will be a decision based on the statutory public consultation that's ongoing at the moment. It's all conditional on that.

"Ideally, you may want to wait until the consultation is finished before we take forward the request to acquire the sites but the timescales are such that we need to overlap some of this activity.

"The hope is that the schools will be open by the Autumn of 2024 so we need to start the ball rolling now effectively, to have any chance of meeting that timescale."

He continued: "The site itself is the former Hyundai/Motorola site that was acquired by Shepherd Offshore back in 2011.

"They have sought, and have got, planning consent for various changes over the years and sold off parts for residential development.

"The balance of it now, certainly the majority, is what would form the Dunfermline Learning Campus.

"Fife College have already acquired a significant chunk of land there, about 10 acres three years ago, so the plan is to co-locate the two schools and the college and create an integrated learning campus with all the benefits that provides."

Asked for detail about catchments and pupil numbers, Alan Paul, senior manager in property services, said: "The combined number of pupils anticipated for the entire campus is 2,640.

"Those are the pupils that attend St Columba's, they come from an extensive catchment as it's one of two Roman Catholic secondary schools in Fife, Woodmill and the numbers also include the department of special education that serves both schools.

"We're very clear, as part of the consultation process, that they will remain as separate schools, separate identities, for very obvious reasons.

"But there is the opportunity for a shared approach in relation to the work of the two schools."

He continued: "They work hand in glove at present and indeed, following the fire at Woodmill in 2019, colleagues at St Columba's provided absolutely fantastic levels of support to Woodmill.

"At the moment, the two schools are separated by a public road but they already share staff resources and there is very strong partnership work between the two schools.

"The proposal for the campus seeks to build on that."

A later report at the assets and corporate services sub-committee, including commercially-sensitive details and land values relating to the schools site, was discussed in private.