PORTOBELLO Community Council is set to be slashed in size amid claims it is being led by “out of touch zombies”.
The council currently has 15 elected and 15 nominated members representing the large number of local groups in the area. Now city chiefs are looking at whether this should be cut to 14 elected and seven nominated members – to bring Portobello in line with other Edinburgh districts which have similar populations.
Critics have welcomed the consultation – which comes as city leaders finalise a report on changes to how community councils will be run – and believe it will make the Portobello group more democratic.
Sean Watters, who represents Towerbank Primary School on the community council, said: “We had a member of the public turn up at our last meeting who called lots of the represented groups zombies, the undead, because they haven’t done anything in the community in years and yet claim to represent Portobello.
“What has happened is that people who want to stand for election are instead told they can just represent this or that group on the council.
“It’s about avoiding the hassle of direct elections and it’s not healthy. We haven’t had an election in living memory.”
He accused the council of putting its own views ahead of those of residents and failing to act on issues where there was strong local feeling.
The council’s refusal to ask the Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) to drop a controversial appeal against court backing for plans to build a new high school on the park had led to growing demands for an overhaul, he said. And he pointed to other instances where he said the council had “stuck its oar in” without gauging local opinion.
“You had the proposal for a hovercraft and yes, there were some people who were worried about noise, but lots of people were in favour, and the council opposed it,” he said.
“What happened with the application by Annie and Belle cafe to increase the number of tables is the classic one. The council sent a letter to the city council over balance between different types of shop in the high street, which ended up being taken as an objection and the application was refused. The cafe has since closed.”
But Diana Cairns, joint-secretary of Portobello Community Council, said: “The council has had 15 elected and 15 nominated members for 30 years, which is a historic thing because you have lots of local groups in the area. These are not zombie groups – they are legitimate groups which have been here for decades, and their representatives have definitely not been brought in to avoid elections.”
Councillor Maureen Child, Labour member for Portobello and Craigmillar, said she supported reducing the council.
“The number of nominated members should not be more than half the number of directly elected members. This is about who gets a vote on local issues – who gets to represent the community view,” she said.
A city council spokesman confirmed a consultation on the size of Portobello Community Council was under way and said: “We have been reviewing how community councils operate and will be reporting back on May 2 on the findings of the initial period of consultation.”
Serving the public
Created in Scotland in 1973, community councils make public bodies aware of the opinions and needs of the people they represent.
As well as general issues affecting residents, local authorities are legally required to consult community councils on planning applications and many choose to involve them in the planning process.
There are around 1200 community councils in Scotland. Many also involve themselves in a range of other activities, including fundraising and environmental projects.