Portobello High School: Call for speed on bill

CAMPAIGNERS fighting for a new school on Portobello Park have called on council chiefs to waste no time in lodging a Private Bill after an overwhelming vote in favour of the move.

The call comes after the council published the results of a consultation held to gauge public support for the move, which would clear the way for the development of a new Portobello High School on the public park.

Residents around Portobello voted three to one in favour of building the new school on the green space, with 76 per cent of residents who responded from the area backing the city council’s proposal to take a Private Bill to the Scottish Parliament.

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This would remove a legal barrier to using Portobello Park as the site of a new building to replace the city’s largest high school, after opponents of the plan argued it was inalienable common good land.

Councillors are expected to vote to pursue a Private Bill at a full council meeting on Thursday after reviewing the results of the consultation, which attracted more than 12,000 responses.

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Sean Watters, chair of Portobello For a New School (PFANS), said: “The overwhelming vote in favour of the school on the park is a clear mandate for the council. They must now waste no time in lodging a Private Bill to the Scottish Parliament.

“The vote by this community is a powerful demonstration of local democracy in action. Many people will agree that it should be local communities – and not judges and the courts – who should determine how local community assets, including ‘common good’ land, should be used.

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“We’re calling on those who continue to oppose this proposal to respect the results of the consultation.”

Meanwhile, Geoff Lynn, a local parent and father of three children at Towerbank Primary, said building a new Portobello High School on the park was “the best solution for the whole community.”

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“The consultation response shows that people in this community have weighed up the options carefully and concluded that a Private Bill is the best way to deliver a new school,” he said.

However, Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG), which opposes the park plan, said the consultation process was flawed. Alison Connelly, spokeswoman for PPAG, said: “It is a lengthy report so will take time to go through in detail, but there are huge flaws in the council’s consultation process, and PPAG will be continuing to act to ensure that Portobello Park is preserved as the law says it should be.”

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If the Private Bill is successful and the school can be built on Portobello Park, the city council plans to create a new £1 million park on part of the school’s current site to appease those concerned about the loss of green space.

The council said the new park would only be slightly smaller than the area of open space which would be lost.

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Rosemary Moffat, one of dozens of people who canvassed door-to-door during the council consultation, pointed out that the overall net loss of green space in the area was equivalent to half a football pitch.

“Surely half a football pitch of green space lost is a price worth paying to secure a wonderful new high school in a parkland setting that can benefit generations of children,” she said.

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“We’ve spoken to literally thousands of people over the past few months and what’s clear is that we all believe in protecting green space – but not at any price.”

A council spokeswoman said: “If the report is agreed at full council, the proposals will be submitted to the parliament at the earliest opportunity.”

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It is understood that if councillors approve the Private Bill option at Thursday’s meeting, the proposals will be submitted to the Scottish Parliament within a matter of days.