Portobello park group protest leader steps down

Ms Sutherland works for the children and families department. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Ms Sutherland works for the children and families department. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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THE leader of a protest group fighting a new Portobello High School has stepped down from her role – because she works for the city council’s children and families department.

It is understood that Ros Sutherland recently quit her position as chair of Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) after being advised to do so by her bosses.

Ms Sutherland is principal officer for service inspection and review in the department, which had sparked concerns over a “conflict of interest”.

PPAG’s decision to appeal a Court of Session judgement in favour of the plans could delay the new school by up to two years and has been heavily criticised by the city council and other parents.

The council is now pursuing the protest group through the courts for its legal fees.

City education leader Marilyne MacLaren said Ms Sutherland standing down from her position as PPAG chair was “an appropriate step”, adding that “she should have done it earlier”.

She said: “There is a definite conflict of interest.”

Meanwhile, chair of Portobello For a New School (PFANS), Sean Watters, said: “It’s always struck me as very odd that someone who’s in the education department and who must know the difficulties with the high school doesn’t seem to see just how important it is to get a new school.

“If there’s a conflict of interest or some sort of issue, it’s been an issue for years, so it’s a little late in the day [for Ms Sutherland to step down] with just a few weeks to go before the appeal.”

PFANS member Bob Jefferson added: “I personally agree that her position was untenable. There was a conflict of interest and I’m happy to hear that she has resigned from her position as chair of PPAG, although I guess she’s going to continue as a supporter, so I think there’s still a question mark there.

“What we really want is for PPAG to drop the appeal so the school can be built.”

The Evening News told yesterday how Portobello Community Council had refused to ask PPAG to drop its appeal.

More than 200 people packed into an emergency meeting of the community council, the vast majority of whom were in favour of the new school being built on Portobello Park.

Earlier this month, more than 70 backers of the new school signed a special petition requiring Portobello Community Council to convene the emergency meeting.

On behalf of Ms Sutherland, a spokeswoman for PPAG said: “We have no comment to make on the internal workings of our group.”

The appeal is due to be heard on May 23 and 24, but the judgement could take some time.

SIDE ISSUE

Education leader Marilyne MacLaren has been criticised for her treatment of PPAG.

A deputation from the campaign group was grilled at last week’s full council meeting, with Ms MacLaren suggesting they were motivated by the impact on their own house prices.

But Councillor Alison Johnstone, also an MSP for the Lothians, said Cllr MacLaren had failed to treat the deputation with the proper respect.

She said: “We can’t simply listen to only those with whom we share a view.”