MSP backs calls for clarity over Portobello High School rulings

Council education leader Paul Godzik speaks with parent Sally Thompson. Picture: Kate Chandler

Council education leader Paul Godzik speaks with parent Sally Thompson. Picture: Kate Chandler

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POLITICIANS and parents are demanding answers over conflicting judgements made in the long-running Portobello High School dispute.

Lothians Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale is due to quiz parliament on whether the Scottish Government plans to review the law concerning common good land, in light of the recent ruling by the Court of Session against building a new school on Portobello Park.

Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) 
had appealed an earlier Court of Session ruling backing the council’s plans to build the school on the park.

On Wednesday, it was announced PPAG’s appeal –which challenged the council’s legal right to use part of Portobello Park for the new school – had been successful.

Ms Dugdale said the opposite views taken in the first court ruling in March – which concluded that the council did have the power to appropriate inalienable common good land and, therefore, build the school on the park – and the subsequent appeal judgement, which ruled the opposite, underlined the need to clarify the situation.

Ms Dugdale said: “We have had two rulings from the Court of Session, both diametrically opposite and both viewed by the presiding judge as unequivocal. All that tells us is the law is a mess.

“Instead of battling it out in the courts, we need to introduce the democratic process again. This should be discussed in parliament, not the courts.”

Councillor Paul Godzik, the city’s education leader, said the council was “determined to work closely with the Scottish Parliament to make the new school a reality”.

The news comes as the Evening News urges readers to make use of a campaign poster set to be printed in Monday’s paper, which shows Etta Watters – the daughter of Sean Watters, chairman of Portobello for a New School (PFANS) – who is set to start Portobello High School next year.

It is hoped that residents will display the poster in their windows as part of the campaign to ensure the new school is built as quickly as possible.

Chair of Portobello High School Parent Council, Paul Smart, whose son is a fourth year pupil at the school, said: “I think the latest decision of the court to completely reverse a previous decision seems to demonstrate a lack of clarity about the use of common good land for the benefit of the whole community.” Mr Watters added: “If the law is a mess and you get completely opposite judgements, it needs to be sorted. I would welcome any intervention from MSPs and Holyrood.”

Andy Wightman, a well-known campaigner for land reform, suggested a possible reason for the contrast in decisions could be that the first judge, Lady Dorrian, may not have examined the case in as much detail as the three judges who upheld the appeal, because she said PPAG had left it too late to start court proceedings.

laura.cummings@edinburghnews.com