City races to resolve school saga in bid to avoid costs rise

An artist's impression of the new Porty High
An artist's impression of the new Porty High
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EDUCATION chiefs have just over a month to enter into an arranged contract to build the new Portobello High School on a community park or risk having to start the process again, leading to further costs and delays.

Arrangements are currently in place to award a “very competitive” contract to Balfour Beatty, which would achieve the earliest date for the delivery of a new Portobello High on part of Portobello Park.

However, the council is not currently in a position to enter into the contract due to the legal dispute over its right to build the school on the park.

Balfour Beatty has extended the tender acceptance period again to November 30 and in the meantime education chiefs will discuss longer-term options with the firm.

However, should the chance to enter into the contract with Balfour Beatty be lost, a new procurement exercise would be required, which would take up to nine months and is not likely to be started until the council is sure that it can lawfully use part of Portobello Park as the site of the new school.

Having to re-tender is likely to increase the cost of the new school by millions of pounds. Furthermore, building work must start on the park before planning consent expires in February 2014.

The city’s education leader, Paul Godzik, said: “We are in discussions with our preferred construction contractor, Balfour Beatty, to see if it is possible to extend the period in which we could still enter into a contract with them to build the new school.

“Ideally, we would want to extend this until we have resolved the current legal impediment which is preventing us from building the school on the park. This would be preferable to starting the tendering process again, which would be very time consuming and involve considerable extra expense.”

Education chiefs have already said they will call for a change in the law via a Private Act of Parliament to seek permission to be built on the park.

If successful, the local authority plans to create a new park on part of the school’s current site in a bid to appease those with concerns over the loss of green space.

Giselle Baillie, a parent with two children at Portobello High, said: “The Private Bill route looks to be the fastest way to deliver a desperately needed new secondary school, and the offer of a new park on the old school site should satisfy all those who opposed the plans because green space would have been lost.”

Among the other options being considered by the council is the potential to create a single new school to accommodate both Portobello and Castlebrae catchment pupils, with a required capacity of around 2200 pupils.

Craigmillar town centre and Brunstane Estate have been identified as possible sites for the new school, but education chiefs are not in favour of the option.

Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) successfully appealed a Court of Session ruling backing the council’s plans to build the school on Portobello Park.

Education chiefs have since decided not to appeal the decision as it is “unlikely to 
succeed”.

PPAG spokeswoman Alison Connelly said: “We welcome the news that the council have recognised the strength of the legal ruling and that an appeal to the Supreme Court is very unlikely to succeed.

“We are also very pleased that there has been a genuine attempt to consider alternative sites, including the existing site and the site at Baileyfield Road. It is disappointing that the council are still considering efforts to introduce legislation that would effectively remove the protection that our green space and common good land presently enjoys.

“We are hopeful that when the details are considered, one of the alternative sites will emerge as a more realistic prospect.”