Date set for crunch Porty HS debate

Kezia Dugdale says she is looking forward to the Porty High debate
Kezia Dugdale says she is looking forward to the Porty High debate
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THE Scottish Parliament has set the date for a crunch debate on legislation aimed at allowing a replacement Portobello High to be built in protected green space.

A debate on Edinburgh City Council’s Portobello Park private bill will take place on January 9 after a four-strong committee of MSPs backed its general principles earlier this month.

The proposed legislation would reclassify Portobello Park as “alienable common good land” and open it up for education-related development.

Amid growing confidence the bill is now set for plain sailing through parliament, Kezia Dugdale, Lothian MSP and Scottish Labour’s shadow cabinet secretary for education, said she had secured a number of public gallery tickets which she would be happy to 
distribute.

In a Facebook post, she said she was “looking forward to taking part in the debate” and would welcome residents’ thoughts on the “key issues which should be highlighted”.

The parliamentary debate will see MSPs decide whether to accept a recommendation from Labour’s Siobhan McMahon, the SNP’s James Dornan, Liberal Democrat Alison McInnes and the SNP’s Fiona McLeod that the bill’s general principles be approved.

It will then progress to the consideration stage, when committee members will scrutinise details of the proposed legislation, as well as amendments and all remaining objections.

Finally, the bill will return to parliament, where a decision will be taken on whether to accept or reject it.

Leaders of Portobello For A New School (PFANS), which supports the council’s plans, said there was increasing acceptance that the bill would enable work to begin without threatening protected green space elsewhere in Scotland.

Sean Watters, secretary of Portobello community council and PFANS chairman, said he expected the coming debate to be a calm and civilised affair, adding: “Certainly among the local MSPs in the Lothians, the result has been a fair amount of support for its proposals.

“A couple still want to see the detail and assure themselves that the bill is proportionate and won’t affect other common good land in Scotland.

“But the committee’s report is quite clear that the legislation does not set a precedent and just affects Portobello Park. I suspect MSPs will be persuaded by the committee’s recommendations.”

Leaders of Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) admitted they were disheartened that the principles of the bill had been backed even though the committee had highlighted “serious issues” with the city council’s evidence.

PPAG spokeswoman Alison Connelly said: “Although the private bill committee agreed there are serious issues with the evidence led by Edinburgh council, including the fact that this could set precedent and undermine the safeguards inherent in inalienable common good land, they have shied away from recommending that the bill be rejected.

“We hope that the debate in parliament will address some of the questions that remain unanswered. This is an issue for all of Scotland.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com