COUNCILLORS have unanimously backed plans to buy an alternative site for the new Portobello High School in case fresh attempts to build it on a community park prove unsuccessful.
The twin-track approach, which follows the court ruling against siting the school in Portobello Park, will see the council bidding to purchase former Scottish Power land at Baileyfield as one possible fallback option, while also asking the Scottish Parliament to pass a private act which would allow the original plans for the school to proceed.
The other alternative would be to rebuild on the school’s existing site.
Education convener Paul Godzik said: “I’m very pleased the council agreed unanimously to pursue the private bill. It is only sensible to ensure there is a fallback option should we be unable to progress the preferred option of building on the park.”
In a deputation to yesterday’s council meeting, Sheila Kidd, of the Portobello Park Action Group, which opposes building on the park, welcomed the plan to purchase the Baileyfield site. She said the site could be extended by adding the adjacent Baileyfield depot, currently leased by the council’s waste management and grounds maintenance services.
She said: “The new Gillespie’s and Boroughmuir schools are both being built on relatively small, brownfield sites and no-one is suggesting they should be built on the Meadows.”
Ms Kidd voiced scepticism about how quickly a private act could be passed at Holyrood.
She said: “Even if it is passed, it could be subject to judicial review. The quickest route to a new school would be to build on an alternative site.”
Gillian Dunn, of the Build on Baileyfield group, said the ex-Scottish Power site had good transport links and would allow the High Street to benefit from lunchtime trade.
She said: “We believe Baileyfield gives the council the opportunity to get out of the fix it is in.”
Paul Smart, chair of Portobello High School’s parent council, acknowledged the council had been forced to adopt a twin-track approach, but he described Baileyfield as a small piece of land between two main roads, right on the edge of the catchment area. He argued that the plan to build in the park was the right option, saying: “The building has already been designed and approved. It is a shovel-ready project.”.
A consultation will now be launched for a private bill at Holyrood next year to allow the school to be built on the park.
A full statutory consultation will be carried out next year to decide whether the Baileyfield site or rebuilding on the current site would be the preferable option should it prove impossible to build on the park.