Lynn Sylvester: Portobello high plan affects us all

Portobello High School. Picture: Bill Henry
Portobello High School. Picture: Bill Henry
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Do you know which green spaces in your area are common good land? Do you know how your council protects such land in your area? Is it safe from development?

The City of Edinburgh Council recently consulted on a proposal to take a private bill to the Scottish Parliament to seek authority to use Portobello Park for a new high school. The bill is intended to circumvent a legal ruling by the Court of Session that the council could not build a school on the park as it was inalienable, common-good land.

Should this private bill reach the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament, your MSP will be able to vote.

Although the consultation was Edinburgh-wide, the council has sought to argue this is an issue affecting only Portobello. The questionnaire was available online, but all leafleting and public meetings focused on the catchment area of Portobello High School.

The council maintains that the private bill, if successful, will not set any precedent, as it would be specific to the particular piece of land concerned.

Should the council decide to go ahead with the bill, not only will it set a precedent within Edinburgh but local councils across Scotland will be watching to find out if MSPs will support it and whether this is a route they could follow.

Despite the council’s assertion this is a local matter this has a significance beyond Portobello. Apart from other areas within Edinburgh which might be at risk in future, it is the case that several local authorities have, in the past, considered the possibility of using public parks, which are also common-good land, for the same sort of purpose. In a number of cases, the only thing that has prevented them doing so has been the inalienable common-good status of that land. Should the City of Edinburgh Council be successful in its attempt to circumvent that protection, other areas of public green space across Scotland will be at risk.

Our MSPs need to know we value our public green space and the importance of ensuring they remain open and accessible to all.

• Lynn Sylvester is campaigning for the protection of common good land and green space.