No verdict on new Portobello High School site for 16 months

Portobello High School
Portobello High School
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THE location of a new Portobello High School will not be decided until early 2014, council chiefs have confirmed.

A report discussed at last week’s full council meeting stated a decision “on the way forward” for the new school would not be taken until February 2014, at which point building work is expected to start.

Providing the council’s plan to pursue a Private Bill to allow the school to be built on Portobello Park is successful, the new school is expected to open in January 2016.

The report also revealed that it is estimated the council will have to fork out another £850,000 – which will be paid from the existing project budget – to enter into a proposed contract with Balfour Beatty in February 2014 due to inflation hikes. Building work on the new school was due to get under way in October 2011 but has been subjected to delays following a dispute over the council’s legal right to build on the green space.

The council has a proposed agreement with Balfour Beatty which now applies up to the end of February 2014. This is also when planning consent expires and building work must start on the park.

However, Portobello Park Action Group spokeswoman Alison Connelly claimed there was no certainty around the Private Bill, “either whether it will be passed, or the timescales for progressing through parliament”. She added: “Given the level of objections and the amount of evidence that the Bill committee will have to consider, we believe it is likely to take much longer than the council have estimated, and we do not believe that they will have clearance to build on Portobello Park by February 2014. That is the date their planning permission expires.

“If they have not managed to overcome the current law by then, planning will have to be revisited and the tendering exercise will also have to be re-run, so they could be starting from scratch again.”

A consultation period for the Private Bill will get under way during the first week in December and run until January 31 next year. A report will then go to council in March next year seeking approval to submit the Private Bill to parliament. The timescale for taking the Bill through Holyrood is around six months to a year from its introduction, which means it may be February 2014 before the council has a clear way ahead.

Chair of Portobello For A New School, Sean Watters, said: “The council will be hoping they’re able to make a decision before February 2014, but a lot depends on the Private Bill. The greatest risk is a lack of responses to the consultation. If everyone who supports the school responds, and shows just how much public support there is, that’s bound to make a huge difference at Holyrood.

“Without the Bill, we could be looking at 2019 before a new school opens.”

Meanwhile, the city’s education leader, Paul Godzik, said: “Over the next few months we’ll be consulting extensively with the local community to explain our proposals for using the park for a new Portobello High and seeking their views. The council firmly believes that the park remains by far the best option for a new school.”