Disputed Portobello Park school site ‘is 99% empty’

Gillian Dunn, Diane Cairns and Stephen Hawkins. Picture: Neil Hanna
Gillian Dunn, Diane Cairns and Stephen Hawkins. Picture: Neil Hanna
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The park where council chiefs want to build the new Portobello High School is empty 99 per cent of the time and only used by dog walkers, MSPs have been told.

Supporters of the plan to site the new school in Portobello Park said the green space was “not loved”.

Tom Ballantyne, Rosemary Moffat and Sean Watters. Picture: Neil Hanna

Tom Ballantyne, Rosemary Moffat and Sean Watters. Picture: Neil Hanna

But objectors claimed the park had been neglected, the grass left to grow, had no 
facilities and just one bench.

The campaign groups for and against building the school in the park both put their case to the Scottish Parliament committee scrutinising the bill which would give the council the legal right to develop the site despite last year’s court ­ruling against the plan.

Sean Watters, chair of ­Portobello for a New School, said everyone agreed a replacement for the current high school was urgently needed and long overdue.

He claimed the views of local people were also clear, saying: “The local community is overwhelmingly in favour of the school being built on P­ortobello Park. It is by far the best possible site.

“Yes, we would lose some green space, but improved paths would make the remaining park and golf course more accessible, people would still be able to exercise, enjoy the trees, wildlife, views. We would also get a new park on the existing school site, keeping the loss of open space to a minimum.”

And Rosemary Moffat, who said she lived two minutes’ walk from the park, said: “The park lies empty 99 per cent of the time and is used only by dog walkers.

“I grew up with two brothers who complained constantly about Portobello Park because it was on a slope and every time they tried to pass the ball to each other it went somewhere else. It’s not like other parks that are loved – it’s not a loved park and never has been.”

But Stephen Hawkins, chair of the Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) said a 2009 council audit which claimed the park was not well used was a snapshot and did not compare it with other city parks.

And Jennifer Peters, also of PPAG, said: “There are no facilities at all in the park, there is one bench and the grass is rarely cut. If there was a swing park, more benches or picnic tables, usage would go up.”

Ms Peters said the council’s consultation on the Bill before parliament had been “a sales pitch for a school in the park”.

She said alternative options had never been presented in a balanced way and that two other secondary schools in the city – Boroughmuir and James Gillespie’s, each with around 1150 pupils – were being replaced on brownfield sites which were proprotionately smaller than the alternative sites for 1400-pupil Portobello.

iswanson@edinburghnews.com