EDINBURGH City Council is set to pay more than £60,000 to confirm the status of Portobello Park as it continues to fight for a new school to be built on the green space.
Education chiefs’ plans to build a new Portobello High School on the park were scuppered when the Court of Session upheld an appeal by Portobello Park Action Group last month, which ruled that the council could not build there as it is common good land.
However, seeking concrete classification of the status of the land is among a number of options now being pursued by the local authority as part of a desperate bid to ensure the long-awaited new school can still be built on the park – despite the recent court ruling.
The move to firmly establish whether or not the park is common good land could take around six months and cost in the region of £55,000 to £65,000. The process would involve the council requesting a declarator – legal confirmation - from the Court of Session regarding the land’s status, with the local authority submitting a petition which it is understood would outline the reasons why the land may not be considered common good.
A preliminary hearing would then take place, at which others could submit their views, and a full hearing would follow, where a ruling would be made.
If the court states that the land is not common good, the council would have the green light to build the new school on the park – subject to any further appeal.
In a report set to be discussed at a full council meeting on Thursday, at which councillors will be asked to approve the plans, Director of Children and Families, Gillian Tee, said: “In the absence of any new facts coming to light which clarify the matter beyond doubt, the council would ask court for its view on the matter.”
She added: “A decision of the court on this point would resolve the matter and a petition would be made to the court at the earliest opportunity. A decision that the park is not common good would carry a number of advantages.
“If the site does not form part of the common good, or is alienable common good, then the council would be able to appropriate it for the new school.
“It is estimated that a decision could be obtained in approximately six months, although that is dependent upon the court’s diary and availability of Counsel.”
Last month, the Evening News told how doubts had been expressed over the status of the land after Andy Wightman, a well-known campaigner for land reform and an expert on common good territory in Scotland, said it had never been firmly established whether the park could be classified as common good land, and that any judgement on its status would have to be decided by the courts.
Mr Wightman said: “I certainly welcome the council recommendation that they seek clarification on the park’s status because that is at the heart of this particular dispute,” he said.
The city’s education leader, Paul Godzik, added: “One of the actions we are currently considering is to seek a formal confirmation from the court of the common good status of the land, as only the court can actually put this beyond doubt. I remain hopeful that we will find a way to build the school that our pupils deserve.”