A DISPUTE over ownership of land is threatening to ruin plans for a primary school garden.
The city council had allocated the derelict Geddes Garden, at the west end of the Grassmarket, to St Thomas' Primary School, to create an "eco-garden".
But Prestonpans Trading Ltd claims it owns a section of the land, and plans to use it as part of a backpackers' hostel.
Parents and children were shocked to find the company had cleared the land last week, removing trees and shrubs. The pupils and teachers had spent several months planning the garden, which would have included existing trees and plants.
The city council is now investigating the dispute, which is set to go to a Lands Tribunal.
The developer, which is based in Blair Street, has applied for permission to convert the former Salvation Army women's hostel into a modern hostel. They plan to clear the derelict land for use by guests at the hostel.
But the move has angered many local people, who thought the land was owned by the council for the use of the community.
Norma Devlin, who has three children at the school and is a member of the parent council, said she was shocked when she saw the felled trees on Saturday. She has been involved in the project to create the garden since last year.
She said: "We couldn't believe it. The kids were really looking forward to working on it.
"We were trying to keep as many plants as possible. They've taken out shrubs the children were going to use. They were going to try and encourage wildlife, and put in eco-sculptures."
Nick Cumming, who lives nearby in the Grassmarket, said many residents were upset about the loss of trees.
He said: "This is just ridiculous. The children have been working on it for at least four months – I think they started just before the summer holidays. Now the developers have just come in and shredded it."
And city centre councillor Joanna Mowat said her understanding was it was council land.
She added: "It's not acceptable that developers go in and start felling trees. The land was earmarked for community use.
"In any case, they would need permission before felling trees in a conservation area."
However, a legal spokesman for Prestonpans Trading Ltd said they believed the company owned the land. He said they would be taking the dispute to a tribunal, if they could not find an amicable solution.
He added: "The council appear to have made promises to the school when they are not in a position to confirm ownership of the land. This seems to be negligent in the extreme."
A city council spokeswoman said: "This allegation has been reported to the council and is currently being investigated."