Councillor breaks down as axe falls on old school

A CITY councillor burst into tears as his colleagues took the decision to close his old school – before composing himself in time to seal the fate of another.

Despite being a member of the administration, SNP councillor Mike Bridgman abstained from voting on the closure of Lismore Primary, where his daughter is currently a pupil.

He shook with emotion and had to leave the room crying as the closure was voted through at a highly-charged full council meeting.

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Fortunately for the Lib Dem/SNP ruling coalition, he returned to vote in favour of axing Westburn Primary in Wester Hailes – which was only passed on the casting vote of Lord Provost George Grubb.

Bonnington Primary in Leith had earlier also had its closure voted through.

Cllr Bridgman, who has spent years fighting to save the Bingham school, said after the meeting: "It was very emotional for me, I went there, my daughter goes there and practically my whole family have been involved.

"But I've done all I can, I've lobbied and done other things for the community, but I'm a member of a party and these decisions have to be taken.

"It's a very sad day and I found it very difficult sitting through that, listening to the school's fate being decided."

The decision means Lismore and Bonnington will now shut at Christmas, while Westburn will close next summer.

Cllr Bridgman's abstention from voting on Lismore did not affect the outcome as that closure, along with Bonnington, saw the city's Conservative group support the administration.

It was the decision to close Westburn, despite a last-minute plea from Chancellor Alistair Darling, which caused most controversy.

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Severe mistakes had been made in the consultation process on Westburn which led councillors to believe it was in a worse state than it actually was.

Conservative councillor Jason Rust said: "The consultation process was flawed, there was a whole series of errors. It was wrongly claimed it had the third lowest role in Edinburgh, and there were many others.

"The pupils, staff and community expect a fair hearing and they did not get one."

And Green councillor Alison Johnstone added: "In fact, had the mistakes not taken place, Westburn would not have been on this list at all and we wouldn't be discussing this."

It is widely accepted that Westburn is one of the better schools in the area, has a decent level of achievement and is in a satisfactory condition.

It was also stated that many parents take their children there from outwith the catchment, so good is its standing in the west of Edinburgh.

All of those advantages had been contradicted in an earlier "botched" report, although education leader Cllr Marilyne MacLaren said at the meeting, to the fury of the public gallery: "These were minor errors which had no bearing on this decision."

Once the voting on Lismore and Bonnington was complete, Labour leader Andrew Burns said: "I hope the administration allows councillors to vote with their conscience like they did with Cllr Bridgman and not enforce the whip."

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Secretary of Sighthill, Broomhouse and Parkhead Community Council Keith Bell, who made a deputation to the meeting, said afterwards that the mistakes made in the initial consultation had impacted on the decisions.

"We feel let down and that there could have been a petition of 100,000 names and it wouldn't have made a blind bit of difference. This decision was taken months ago."