THE battle to build a new Portobello High School today descended into a furious war of words, amid fears of fresh delays and a soaring bill for taxpayers.
Relations between the council and those seeking to halt the Portobello Park development sank to a new low following the threat of new court action to stop the long-awaited project. It comes as:
• Education leader Marilyne MacLaren launched a blistering attack on the “obsessive” protesters.
• Council chiefs revealed they would be going to court to recover at least £75,000 in legal fees from the protesters.
• A rally was planned on the doorstep of the main protesters.
Councillor MacLaren told the Evening News she was “extremely angry” at the actions of a “misguided few”, and that there was no “rationality or logic” behind the Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) decision to appeal a Court of Session judgement which supported the building of the new £45.1 million school.
The appeal could delay the construction of a new Portobello High by up to two years.
PPAG, which has been fighting the plans since 2006, has already lost a legal challenge arguing that the site could not be built on because it was common good land.
Today the group insisted that it represented 100 people and warned building on the park would open the floodgates for housing on the rest of the site.
Among those listed on the legal papers as petitioners were PPAG’s Ron Sylvester, Ian Ross, Elizabeth Manshouri and Ros Sutherland. It is understood they would all be liable for the legal costs that the council is now pursuing.
Cllr MacLaren said today: “I am extremely angry at the actions of these obsessive and, in my view, misguided few who have put the interests of a piece of little-used parkland before the education and wellbeing of hundreds of young people. They have, without doubt, truly lost their moral compass.”
She continued: “Are they really serious in appealing [the] judgement, or are they embarking on a petty spoiling exercise?”
Cllr MacLaren warned that the consequences of the appeal could be severe. “We may lose the present contractor and then have to start from scratch in letting the contract,” she said. “This could put us back years and potentially cost taxpayers millions of pounds.”
The costs incurred by the legal battles currently stand at more than £75,000. However, it is understood that the figure could double.
Today’s “Drop the Appeal” demonstration, meanwhile, is being organised by local parent Bob Jefferson and will take place in Portobello Park from 1pm.
Mr Jefferson, whose 11-year-old daughter Emily is a pupil at the school, also set up a Facebook page and online petition against PPAG’s decision to appeal. He said the demonstration would be an opportunity for angry parents, pupils and residents to vent their “frustration and disappointment”.
In a statement, PPAG, chaired by Ms Sutherland, underlined that no other area of Edinburgh has had to “give up a park to get a new school”.
“We can, and should, have both,” they said.
“No-one, including PPAG members, takes court action lightly. We have given serious consideration to the consequences and taken time to consult our legal team. They have advised the group that there are strong grounds for appeal and that the case is of significant public interest Scotland-wide.
“Should this ruling stand, the council could, for example, take Portobello Golf Course for housing and fulfil their initial intention that they put forward in 2006. At no point has the council denied that this is their long-term goal.”
THE ONGOING SAGA
January 2006: City council announces plans to rebuild Portobello High and St John’s RC Primary on Portobello Golf Course.
May-September 2006: A feasibility study considers 15 possible sites for the high school.
December 2006: Portobello Park is chosen as the preferred site.
December 2008: Legal opinion states the council does not require court permission to appropriate land at Portobello Park for the new school.
Autumn 2010: Planning application lodged and public given opportunity to comment.
February 2011: Planning approval for school granted.
July 2011: Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) petition lodged with Court of Session stating that the park site cannot be appropriated because it is common good land.
March 2012: Judge Lady Dorrian upholds the council’s appropriation of part of the park. PPAG announces it will appeal.