MacLaren to fight last-ditch legal bid to block new school

Marilyne MacLaren
Marilyne MacLaren
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CITY education leader Marilyne MacLaren has vowed to fight a legal bid to stop a new high school being built on Portobello Park as she hit out at protesters for delaying the project and potentially costing the council more money.

Councillor MacLaren today said she was “hugely disappointed” in Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) for raising the petition in the Court of Session.

PPAG lodged the court action on the grounds that the school should not be built on the park because it is common good land.

The action group has been at loggerheads with the council for years over the issue, but Cllr MacLaren is accusing the group of trying to delay the plans by waiting until this late stage to raise the action in court.

She said: “Portobello High is the school most in need of replacement in the city and I’m hugely disappointed that a small group of local residents are trying to stop it.

“This group has known about our plans for many years and have actively participated in the consultation and planning process, and yet they have waited until we’re just about to appoint a contractor before taking this action.

“I was really pleased when the project team managed to find a way to pull forward the school opening date to August 2013 and I’m bitterly disappointed that we will now have to go back to the original date of January 2014 because of the court action.

“I know the school community will share my disappointment as they were keen to move at the start of a new school year rather than midway through.”

Cllr MacLaren said the council was still planning to move forward with the tendering process and a report would go to this month’s council meeting on how to “mitigate” delays.

She added: “We have taken legal advice from senior counsel that says that it is possible to build on Portobello Park.”

But Ros Sutherland, chair of PPAG, said the group’s own legal advice states the opposite and that the council had been aware of its plans to contest the decision in court for some time.

She said: “We have consistently raised the fact that we have legal advice that stated that the council does require to go to court to get permission to build on the Portobello Park site, which is obviously different from the advice they have.

“We did formally write through our solicitor to the council to suggest to them that there was a possibility for a joint approach to be taken whereby both sides could agree to go to court together to clarify the position.

“The council declined.”

Chair of Portobello High School Parent Council, Paul Smart, said: “It is absolutely critical that the new school is built as quickly as possible.

“Anything that delays that is going to be really unhelpful for the children who are at the school now and in the future.

“Their education is really going to suffer significantly from not having a new school as quickly as possible.”

gfraser@edinburghnews.com