Parents backing the creation of a new Portobello High School on a community park have claimed green protesters are misleading residents with a “mystery” petition.
Portobello For A New School (PFANS) has said a petition circulated by the Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) asks people to sign if they want to “save green space”, without mentioning the Portobello High issue.
PFANS supports the council’s proposals to build a school on Portobello Park, while PPAG strongly opposes the plans and believes the green space should be preserved.
The city council consultation on its proposal to take a Private Bill to the Scottish Parliament, which would allow it to build a new school on the park – which is common good land – ends tomorrow at 5pm.
One parent, Louise McKinlay, revealed her husband was approached by a member of PPAG as he left Edinburgh University’s library, and asked to sign the petition.
She said: “He started chatting to her, turns out it [petition] was against building the school on Porty Park. The worrying thing about it was that had he not found out it was really about the park, he would have signed, because she pitched it as something different.”
This came as PPAG claimed PFANS had “stooped to new depths” by attempting to get children to take part in the council’s consultation in Towerbank Primary School playground.
However, chair of PFANS, Sean Watters, 41, said the two tables in the playground were set up by Towerbank Primary’s Parent Council, of which he is a member, with copies of the consultation questionnaire and council information leaflet.
“The purpose of the stall was to try and get parents who maybe hadn’t got round to taking part in the consultation yet, but if kids want to fill in the response form too, they can,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. Kids have a right to respond to the consultation.”
Mr Watters said around 60 signatures were collected last Thursday and Friday, around 20 of which were from pupils – the majority of whom were in primary six and seven.
Councillor Paul Godzik, the city’s education leader, said the issue affects children as much as adults, “arguably even more so”, and added that the council was keen to hear the views of young people on its proposals.
Initial analysis of the responses suggests that the majority of people taking part in the consultation are adults.
Mr Watters added: “The PPAG petition is basically being kept secret – there’s nothing on their Facebook page or website.
“Normally you publicise petitions; why are they keeping it a secret? I think it will say something like, ‘do you want to preserve green space across Scotland?’”
Councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston, Alex Lunn, described the conduct of both the parent council at Portobello High School and PFANs as “nothing short of exemplary”.
A council spokeswoman said: “In a situation like this, there will always be two sides to the argument – the information we produce is factual and describes why we have chosen the park as the best site.”
However, PPAG spokeswoman Alison Connelly said: “It is difficult to know how the council plans to interpret the results of the consultation, given that young children have been encouraged to respond on exactly the same basis as adults.
“There is no distinction between responses from adults, teenagers and very young children. Children have been approached and asked to vote, and there has been a huge Facebook campaign by PFANS. It will be interesting to see the results of the consultation.”
THERE SEEM TO BE SOME MISUNDERSTANDINGS
• Portobello Golf Course will be at risk of development if the council’s plans to build the new school on Portobello Park are successful.
• The golf course won’t be affected by a school being built – the course recently became a Fields in Trust, which will help protect it from any future development.
• If the Private Bill is approved, it will also change the status of other
common good land.
• The Private Bill refers solely to the question of Portobello Park and will not change the status of any other
common good land in Edinburgh or further afield.
• The new £1m park – created to help compensate for the area of open space lost at Portobello Park if the new school is built there – will not be protected.
• Council chiefs are considering ways to protect the new park, such as seeking to give it Fields in Trust status.