Portobello school campaigners vow to fight park Bill

An artist's impression of the new school in Portobello Park. Picture: Contributed
An artist's impression of the new school in Portobello Park. Picture: Contributed
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CAMPAIGNERS against construction of a high school in Portobello Park have vowed to fight a private Bill allowing education chiefs to build in the green space.

The Bill, due to be introduced to Parliament today, will reclassify Portobello Park as “alienable common good land”, removing a legal barrier to using it as the site of a building to replace the city’s largest high school.

But members of Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) said the Bill could pose a threat to green space across the country and that they would fight it by judicial petition if necessary.

PPAG spokeswoman Alison Connelly said: “In their attempts to build on the park, the council have made a number of serious misjudgments over the years and we believe this Bill is yet another. If the Bill goes through it will set a dangerous precedent and could put the protection of common good land throughout Scotland in jeopardy.”

Publication of the Bill comes after PPAG went to the Court of Session in September last year and appealed successfully against an earlier ruling granting permission to build in the park. The judgment ruled it would be unlawful because of the park’s protected common good status.

Council chiefs said the Bill would alter this status and enable them to appropriate the park for the purposes of education authority functions.

But the move was slammed as “risky” and based on “serious flaws” by PPAG leaders. Ms Connelly said: “We urgently need a new Portobello High School. However, there are a number of suitable alternative sites which the council appears to be ignoring.

“We believe this private Bill is part of a very risky strategy as it can’t be compared to previous private Bills passed by the Scottish Government, which faced no opposition.

“What’s more, there were serious flaws with the council-run consultation into this Bill and its results can simply not be relied on.

“PPAG remains committed to protecting Portobello Park from development and is taking legal advice to help pursue a suitable, timely solution for a new Portobello High School.”

Education bosses and campaigners in favour of the council’s plans said the Bill was the best way of ensuring new premises are built as quickly as possible. Sean Watters, chair of Portobello For A New School, said: “The whole point of this private Bill is that it’s fitted to particular circumstances.

“It leaves the general law of the country completely the same – it just allows the council to build a new high school in Portobello Park. It does not affect common good land anywhere else in Scotland.

“What the council has proposed is the best possible outcome, as well as the quickest and cheapest one.”

Education leader Paul Godzik said: “The private Bill is solely about enabling the park to be used for the new Portobello High School.

“Our proposals for open space compensation measures mean that the people of Portobello will not only gain a new park but also see improvements to other green space in the community.”