PPAG set to ignore results of poll on Portobello High school site

Pupils are in desperate need of a new Portobello High School
Pupils are in desperate need of a new Portobello High School
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A CAMPAIGN group fighting a bid to build a new Portobello High School on a community park will continue to oppose the council’s plans even if a public consultation shows the majority don’t agree with them.

Hundreds of people packed into Meadowbank Sports Centre last night to discuss city leaders’ intention to put a Private Bill before the Scottish Parliament in an attempt to force through plans to build on Portobello Park.

Giselle Baillie

Giselle Baillie

Former city councillor Stephen Hawkins, who was speaking on behalf of Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG), which opposes the park plan, said the group wouldn’t back down even if the consultation results went against them.

A panel of council officers, PPAG members and 
representatives from Portobello For A New School (PFANS) answered questions from an audience of around 300 people at a stormy public meeting.

One mother, who is a member of Parsons Green Primary Parent Council but didn’t want to be named, asked PPAG if they would continue to oppose the school being built on the park if the results of the consultation revealed that a significant majority of the community supported the council’s Private Bill proposal.

Mr Hawkins answered: “It will be opposed through the parliamentary process, arguments will be put and people better than me will make the decision.”

His response sparked anger among some members of the audience, with Margherita Still, 44, a teacher at Brunstane Primary who has taught in Edinburgh for 20 years, saying: “I’m terrified by your continued use of the ‘democratic right’.

“Even if the majority say we want the school built on the park, you will use your democratic right to stop or block that. The nursery children at the school will be the ones who get the new school in 2020 and not the primary sevens that I just sent up to S1.”

The city council launched a consultation on the Private Bill proposal last month, which will run until January 31. To date, it has received 4508 responses.

Councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston, Alex Lunn, said he wasn’t surprised by PPAG’s response.

“I think PPAG will exhaust every means they can to stop the school being built on the park and that is their right,” he said.

“I totally disagree with them on it and think they should accept the will of the majority.”

Various issues were raised at the meeting, including concerns over a path running parallel to one of the holes at Portobello Golf Course and the possibility of pupils being struck by wayward golf balls should the plans go ahead.

However, the council insisted a fence would be erected as part of the plans to prevent this.

Fears over the current condition of the crumbling Portobello High School were also discussed at the meeting, which was attended by several pupils.

Afterwards, Giselle Baillie, 52, who lives in Portobello and has two children at Portobello High, said: “PPAG have spoken a lot about democracy and the will of the community and I think it’s a shame that if the consultation does show that there is a clear majority in favour of the school on the park, they are not prepared to reflect that.”

But Mr Hawkins added: “If a Private Bill goes to Parliament, people have the right to object to it.”

The results of the consultation will be discussed at a full council meeting in March.