Mums, dads and kids unite to tell park group: let us build our school

MORE than 100 frustrated parents and pupils joined a protest against the campaign group which is holding up work on the long-awaited new Portobello High School.

Members of the current school’s samba band entertained a crowd of around 150 at the Portobello Park site, as protesters chanted “We want our school” and waved banners in the air with messages reading, “Our school belongs here, live with it”.

The demonstration followed Portobello Park Action Group’s (PPAG) decision to appeal a Court of Session judgement, which could delay the construction of the school by up to two years.

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Council chiefs yesterday revealed they would be going to court to recover at least £75,000 in legal fees from the protesters.

Mother-of-one Barbara Fraser, 48, who lives in Portobello and took part in yesterday’s protest, has an eight-year-old daughter, Ailidh, who is in P4 at Towerbank Primary School.

She said: “I just think the need for the new high school outweighs every other argument now. The sooner we get the best school here for our kids, the better.”

She added: “If everything does go to schedule, Ailidh would probably be one of the first years going into the new school. I would be delighted for her to go into a spanking new school.”

The Drop the Appeal demonstration was organised by local parent Bob Jefferson, who also set up a Facebook page and online petition against PPAG’s decision to appeal.

The 53-year-old, who lives in Portobello, said he was pleased with the turnout at the rally, which was only organised 24 hours before.

“After the protest in the park, the kids all marched down to the High Street and formed a group outside the town hall – they were still chanting about an hour later until their mums came to take them home for their tea. It was fantastic.

“The ball is very much in PPAG’s court now; we have demonstrated beyond doubt that we are the majority.”

Among the messages on the banners and placards being displayed at the protest were “PPAG get real, drop the appeal” and “Our community deserves a new high school now”. There were several speeches from demonstrators, including city education leader Marilyne MacLaren.

S3 pupil at Portobello High School, Grace Gally, 14, said the new school was “definitely” needed.

“I will get less time in the new school because of the appeal,” she said. “Just now we have to get on a bus to go to PE, which wastes half our lessons, and there’s nowhere in the playground for us to sit and eat our lunch. It would be nice to have it in the park.”

However, PPAG believes building on the park would open the floodgates for housing on the rest of the site, and underlined that no other area of Edinburgh has had to “give up a park to get a new school”.

In a statement, PPAG, chaired by Ros Sutherland, said: “We can, and should, have both.”