Portobello High School ruling: Council ponder next move as park plan is overturned on appeal
PARENTS have reacted with shock and anger after plans to build a new Portobello High School on a community park were thrown out by the courts.
The Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) had appealed an earlier Court of Session ruling backing the council’s plans to build the school on Portobello Park.
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And yesterday, it was announced that PPAG’s appeal – which challenged the council’s legal right to use part of Portobello Park as the site for the new school – had been successful.
The surprise judgement from the Court of Session sparked shock, anger and upset amongst parents, pupils and many in the local community, who had expected the appeal to fail.
The council is now considering its next plan of action. Appealing to the Supreme Court is an option, but the council would have to initiate the action within 42 days of yesterday’s decision. Any appeal could also take up to a year.
Officials will also look again at what alternative locations are available for the new school – including rebuilding on the existing site.
And calls have been made to build a “super school” in Craigmillar to accommodate pupils from Portobello and Castlebrae Community High school, which is set to be closed by the council.
Councillor Paul Godzik, the city’s education leader, said he was “shocked” by the decision and confirmed that the council remains “100 per cent committed” to building a new Portobello High School.
Peigi Macarthur, head teacher at Portobello High School, said staff and pupils had been left “reeling and shell-shocked” following the decision.
“I’m devastated for the school community because I think the youngsters deserve a school that’s fit for the 21st century,” she said.
“I think everyone needs to get round the table and have a plan B in order that we can promise future generations of youngsters a decent school building.”
Sean Watters, chairman of Portobello for a New School (PFANS) whose daughter Etta, 11, is set to start Portobello High School next year, added: “It’s pretty devastating, mainly because there’s no obvious plan B. The reasons for going for that site still stand and there were very few alternatives. The school is deteriorating and there’s a limit to how long you can keep it going. Something needs to be done fairly urgently.”
A report will go to the full council in October, outlining the various options being considered by the council
Today, parents, councillors and politicians called on the council to consider building a new high school in Craigmillar to accommodate pupils from Castlebrae Community High School – which is set to close next summer following poor exam results and a falling school roll – and Portobello High School. Labour councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston, Alex Lunn, said 50 per cent of his ward was “depending on a new Portobello High School” and, along with MP for Edinburgh East Sheila Gilmore, called on the council to organise a summit with the community to decide the best way forward.
“I am completely stunned, very disappointed and very upset that the educational needs of so many children have been disregarded in this way,” Cllr Lunn said.
“I will raise the possibility of a new joint school between Portobello and Castlebrae – that’s one of the options that I’m interested in being considered.”
Councillor Godzik said the council was “ruling nothing out at this stage”, adding: “I have instructed officers to look at the possibility of a further appeal and also to explore all other options.”
The new school will be funded by the council’s capital programme, which means there is no time limit on when the money must be spent.
However, PPAG spokeswoman Alison Connelly said: “The decision is a crucial step towards securing valuable green space and parkland for future generations, not just in Edinburgh, but throughout Scotland.
“The court’s decision makes it clear that councils do not have the power to appropriate land such as Portobello Park, what’s known as ‘common good land’, to use for purposes other than recreation.”
PLANS to build a new high school on Portobello Park were challenged by Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) on the grounds that the park is inalienable common good land.
Lady Dorrian dismissed a petition from PPAG in March on the grounds of excessive delay in bringing it forward and concluded that the council had the power to appropriate inalienable common good land.
That sparked an appeal from PPAG, heard at the Court of Session by judges Lady Paton, Lord Emslie and Lord Philip, who ruled the council did not have the power to appropriate the common good land at Portobello Park.
They said school buildings would obstruct public access to open space amenity and recreational ground, with the daily presence of 1400 pupils and staff during term time likely to “radically alter the character of the parkland”.
The contrast in judgements has raised questions about how a completely different decision can be made to that of Lady Dorrian’s. The Court of Session decision also applies to the nearby land on which the golf course sits.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The council could appeal to the Supreme Court, an action which it would have to initiate by October 24. It is discussing the option of an appeal with its legal advisors but any appeal could take as long as a year.
It will also consider alternative locations for the new school, including rebuilding on the existing site. However, this carries the same disadvantages which existed when the council disregarded the option back in 2008, such as the limited size of the site and the necessity for a disruptive and costly decant.
This would also carry the possibility of impacting on plans to rebuild St John’s RC Primary School
A report will be presented to the council next month.
TIMELINE: HOW THE BATTLE UNFOLDED
January 2006: Education chiefs reveal proposals to replace the crumbling Portobello High School and adjacent St John’s Primary School.
December 2006: Portobello Park is announced as the preferred site.
December 2008: Legal opinion states council does not require court permission to appropriate land.
February 2011: Planning approval for school granted.
July 2011: Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) lodge petition with the Court of Session against council plans on the grounds that the local authority cannot appropriate any part of the park
March 2012: Judge Lady Dorrian upholds the council’s appropriation of land. PPAG announces it will appeal.
September 2012: Campaigners win court battle to block plans to build school on the site.
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