THE local community around Portobello has voted three to one in favour of building a new Portobello High School on a public park.
Campaigners fighting to see the new school built on the park have been handed a massive boost by the results of the council consultation, with 76 per cent of residents who responded from the area backing the city council’s proposal to take a Private Bill to the Scottish Parliament.
This included residents of the school’s catchment area which includes Newcraighall, Brunstane, Joppa, Willowbrae and Portobello.
Across the city the response to the survey, which attracted more than 12,000 responses, was similarly emphatic, with 70 per cent of valid responses from city residents supporting the call for a Private Bill.
This would remove a legal barrier to using Portobello Park as the site of a new building to replace the city’s biggest high school, after opponents of the plan argued it was inalienable common good land.
Councillors will now consider the outcome of the consultation and are expected to vote to pursue a Private Bill at a full council meeting next Thursday.
In total, the consultation and parliamentary procedure is expected to cost the council at least £59,370. The results will be used to demonstrate to parliament that the overwhelming majority of local residents want the school built on the park.
Councillor Paul Godzik, the city’s education leader, said: “The support for pursuing the Private Bill has been resounding and we are keen to move on this as quickly as possible.
“Should this approach be agreed by council, we will aim to progress the Bill through the Scottish Parliament as quickly as possible. The public have spoken and it is now our responsibility to ensure we pursue this approach with the sole purpose of ensuring the school is built on the best location possible – Portobello Park.”
A total of 12,018 responses were received to the consultation from as far afield as Australia and America. However, only 9958 were valid responses, with 2060 ruled out due to reasons such as duplicate responses or the respondents not living in Edinburgh.
Paul Smart, chair of Portobello High School parent council, said: “Pupils, parents and teachers are desperate for a new school. The wider community has supported the council’s preferred site in huge numbers.
“What better mandate is there for the Scottish Parliament to give the council the powers to get on and build it as quickly as possible?”
If the Private Bill is successful and the school can be built on Portobello Park, council chiefs have committed to “extensive improvements” to the park, including providing new all-weather pitches to replace the current grass pitches.
The local authority also plans to create a new £1 million park on part of the school’s current site to appease those concerned about the loss of green space.
The council said the new park would only be slightly smaller than the area of open space which would be lost and underlined that the proposed Private Bill would only relate to a change in status for Portobello Park and would have no impact on any other common good land in Edinburgh or the rest of the country.
WHERE THINGS STAND NOW QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q What happens next?
A Councillors are expected to vote in favour of pursuing a Private Bill at a full council meeting next Thursday. The Bill is then set to be formally introduced to the Scottish Parliament in April, with a 60-day objection period following. A committee of three to five MSPs will consider whether the Bill should proceed, which is the preliminary stage. This is followed by the consideration stage, where evidence is heard from both sides. The final stage sees the Bill go to a full meeting of the parliament where they vote on whether it should be passed.
Q How long will it take to progress the Private Bill?
A The length of time for a Bill to go through parliament varies, as each Bill is treated individually. The process can be concluded within six to nine months, but it can take considerably longer if it proves to be controversial.
Q Is that soon enough?
A Tomorrow wouldn’t be soon enough for the hundreds of pupils who have had to wait several years for a new school. The crucial deadline is February 23 next year when planning consent expires. The council also has a proposed agreement with Balfour Beatty which applies up to the end of February 2014.
Q What happens if the deadline is missed?
A It has been estimated that the process to renew the planning application would take approximately six months, and striking a new deal with developers may push the price of the project up.
Q What are the chances of success?
A The council remains confident that the Private Bill can be passed in time, although there are fears about the potential impact of any significant delays. The decision ultimately rests in the hands of MSPs. A simple majority is needed and although it is difficult to say for certain, the overwhelming consultation results have raised hopes that parliamentarians will be persuaded to back the will of the local community.