Portobello High row: MSPs back bid to build school

Portobello Park has been the site of a dispute. Picture: Dan Phillips
Portobello Park has been the site of a dispute. Picture: Dan Phillips
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MSPs have backed the building of a new Portobello High School in Portobello Park.

The Scottish Parliament committee set up to scrutinise the Bill which paves the way for a replacement school recommended its general principles should be approved.

The full parliament must now vote on whether to accept the committee’s recommendation to progress the Bill before it returns to the committee for more detailed consideration.

Local activists in favour of the plans said they expected the Bill’s progress to be rapid after four-strong committee of MSPs published the findings in their preliminary stage report.

Sean Watters, chair of Portobello for a New School, said: “The arguments in favour are overwhelming – I think other MSPs will be persuaded by this. I hope it will be plain sailing from here.”

The MSPs - Labour’s Siobhan McMahon, Liberal Democrat Alison McInnes and Scottish Nationalists James Dornan and Fiona McLeod - took evidence from the council and campaigners on both sides of the argument before producing their report. Although backing the essential points of the Bill, which would allow the legal status of the protected green space to be switched, opening it up as the site for the new school, the committee’s report includes a further recommendation that the legislation be amended to safeguard the park’s common good status in the event that is no longer needed as a school site.

Mr Watters said the proposed change should dispel fears over the bill’s impact on protected green space across Scotland. “I think the report basically confirms what we’ve been pointing out all along – that this is a specific bill and just applies to the park, nowhere else,” he said.

“The report is a sensible approach to what is a complicated issue and a difficult situation. People are frustrated, they have had enough.

“The school has been debated and debated for almost eight years now. People just want to see it built.”

But local activists who oppose the council’s plans said their fight would go on.

Diana Cairns, member of the Portobello Park Action Group, said: “We are surprised because we do not think this bill meets the Scottish Parliament’s own guidelines for private bills, particularly on the consultation issue. The danger with the private bill is that it allows common good land protection to be chipped away at

incrementally.”

The MSPs’ recommendation was hailed as an “important milestone” by city education bosses.

Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “We are pleased that the committee has recommended to the Scottish Parliament that the general principles of the bill be agreed to and that it proceeds as a private bill.”