Early date for Porty appeal

Elin Jones, six, leads the protest against PPAG's latest appeal

Elin Jones, six, leads the protest against PPAG's latest appeal

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AN early date has been set for a protest group to appeal plans to build a new high school in Portobello, but education chiefs today warned the school will not now open before Easter 2014.

Portobello Park Action Group’s (PPAG) legal challenge to halt plans for the new school on Portobello Park will be heard on May 23 and 24.

The appeal date was set at a hearing at the Court of Session in Edinburgh on Tuesday and followed a petition from the city council for an early appeal.

The protest group previously took a legal challenge to the Court of Session to determine whether the city council had the right to build a replacement school on the park.

Judge Lady Dorrian upheld the council’s appropriation of part of the park last month, which prompted PPAG to lodge an 11th-hour appeal.

City education leader Marilyne MacLaren said even if the appeal is immediately rejected, the new school will not be built until at least April 2014.

She said: “We put in a petition asking the courts to accelerate the process for an appeal date. I was very relieved when they offered us the dates in May.

“We will have to wait for a decision after the hearing – it can take anything from a few weeks to a few months.”

The appeal will be heard by three judges in the Inner House of the Court of Session.

Councillor MacLaren said PPAG had until next Tuesday to outline its grounds of appeal before the court and added that she was “hopeful” the appeal would be thrown out.

The council’s current contract with Balfour Beatty expires on May 31 and the authority is in negotiations with the company about extending the date. If unsuccessful, the council faces having to re-tender, increasing the cost of the new school by millions of pounds and leading to further delays.

Cllr MacLaren said: “Now we have got a date of appeal, it’s more appealing for the contractor to wait.”

Sean Watters, chair of Portobello for a New School (PFANS), said: “The longer PPAG drag things out with futile legal action, the longer kids in our community will have to go to school in sub-standard accommodation.”

However, PPAG member Diana Cairns claimed that it was the group’s legal team which had secured the early date for the appeal.

She said: “PPAG has been criticised for lodging an appeal but this is part of the legal process that was started when we decided to challenge the council’s decision to build on the park. We have a democratic right to continue with the appeal and intend to do so. If PPAG had won the first stage, the council would undoubtedly be appealing the judgement. ”

A spokeswoman for the city council said: “It is astonishing that PPAG are now apparently claiming that they requested, and secured, the early appeal.

“Whilst we acknowledge that neither our request for an early appeal hearing nor the proposed dates were opposed by counsel acting for PPAG, the motion seeking urgent disposal of the appeal was instigated by the council.”