Castlebrae school protest sparks political activism

The Castlebrae High row gave Craigmillar residents a taste of local politics. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The Castlebrae High row gave Craigmillar residents a taste of local politics. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A RECORD-BREAKING entry for seats on Craigmillar Community Council has been sparked by the threat to Castlebrae High School, it has been claimed.

Around 22 applications have been received for just 16 seats in Craigmillar as three Capital wards prepare to go to the polls to elect their community watchdogs.

The elections, taking place on October 24, will be fought by incumbent representatives and new blood drawn into community politics by local controversies such as the protracted wrangle over Portobello High School.

In Craigmillar, a huge protest against plans to mothball an under-performing high school is believed to have generated a wave of interest in grassroots affairs.

Terry Tweed, secretary of Craigmillar Community Council, who intends to stand in his seventh year, said old “divisions and factions” have been replaced by a willingness to work together for the good of the community.

And he highlighted some of the challenges facing the new body when elected.

“Castlebrae school is no longer the issue it was because it seems we have won that battle, but there’s no doubt it has raised the profile of community activism and perhaps given people their first taste of local politics,” he said. “I think now they are starting to look at town centre regeneration that is really going to start to move, so people want to have their say about it.

“At the moment we have a big gap where the town centre should be and before the bottom fell out of the market there was a broad brush plan for it. But in the last six or seven years thing have changed and we are now looking at drawing up a new town centre.”

Mr Tweed added that he welcomed the opportunity for an election as it would only strengthen the local body.

Councillor Maureen Child, convener of the communities and neighbourhoods committee, said there was a mood both in Craigmillar and Portobello “to dwell on the future and not rake over the past”.

She said: “The major challenge for the area is regeneration and ensuring that once the economic recovery is here, Craigmillar benefits from that.

“There are a lot of challenges there, not just the school but regeneration and ensuring that the reputation of Craigmillar – which has been ill-deserved as a bad reputation – gains and continues to build on its good reputation for community involvement and positive engagement with all the local authorities and the voluntary sector.”

She added: “You do have to engage positively to get things done and ensure the right decisions are made. The community council has already been engaging positively with the Castlebrae working group and I think there is a group of people that can really make a difference.”

Community council elections will be held for Liberton and District as well as Portobello in the coming weeks.