Porty High court bid ‘putting £5m school building fund at risk’

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AROUND £5 million earmarked for school rebuilding projects in the Capital has been put at risk due to a legal bid to stop a new secondary being built on Portobello Park, according to council chiefs.

Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) has raised a petition in the Court of Session to try to stop Portobello High School being built on the site on the grounds that it is common good land.

The move has already delayed the project by at least five months, but if the action group is successful, it has the potential to stop the development altogether.

Now council bosses say the legal bid could end up damaging projects across the city.

After negotiating a deal with Balfour Beatty, the preferred contractor for the £41.5m project, council chiefs say they could save £5m to spend on other schools in the “wave three” rebuilding programme, such as Boroughmuir and James Gillespie’s. But a lengthy legal challenge could throw that into jeopardy.

In a report, education director Gillian Tee and director of city development, Dave Anderson, said: “The present outcome would provide the opportunity for savings of around £5m to be re-allocated to the delivery of other wave three projects however, this will be at risk with a protracted legal challenge and the prospect of significant additional costs.”

Council chiefs will now attempt to get the legal bid preventing them building the school dropped before the matter goes to court on December 9.

They have revealed they want to work with the group to stop the matter going to court, or at least get a judgement from the court at an earlier date.

They maintain that their legal advice states that the council is entitled to build on the park, despite PPAG obtaining contradictory advice.

The timing of the legal bid, which was launched last month, means that the new Portobello High will not open in August 2013 as hoped, and will be put back to January 2014.

In the meantime, the council is going to carry out £200,000 of site preparation work, which will be done “at its risk” before the Court of Session outcome.

The council will seek approval from councillors next week to appoint Balfour Beatty to carry out the work.

City education leader Marilyne MacLaren said: “It is hugely disappointing that the start of the work may be delayed but by agreeing to some preparatory works going ahead before the contract signing, the council hopes to keep any delays to a minimum.”

Cllr MacLaren hit out at PPAG earlier this week for waiting until now to launch the legal action.

Members of campaign group Portobello For A New School have accused the group of using the legal action as a delaying tactic. But PPAG argues that the council has been aware of the threat of legal action for years and even offered to work with the authority to clarify the position in court, which the council declined.

gfraser@edinburghnews.com

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