Council’s ‘painful’ vote

In the face of legal action, Edinburgh City Council is today voting to approve preparatory works on building on one of Edinburgh’s community parks.  Portobello Park, between the ancient Portobello 9-hole golf course and the Milton Road section of the A1, is the preferred site for the new Portobello High School.  Local activists, during a frustrating five year campaign have condemned the decision to build on the park, citing this as another example of shrinking public green space in Edinburgh.

Portobello Park Action Group have now raised a legal action in the Court of Session to review the decision, which the Council have vowed to ‘vigorously defend’ following legal advice that the works wouldn’t neglect the park’s ‘common good’ status.  Local Labour councillor Maureen Child told Napier News “The contract will not be signed until the legal issue is 100% resolved.  I have never given any false hope of this decision being revisited.  For me, a key issue has been that the school and golf course can operate together and the Common Good status helps further protect the use of that land.  A Council school is a Common Good use.”

“They may be right.” Ros Sutherland, chair of PPAG said yesterday “But they cannot say that their legal opinion is right and ours is wrong.  It’s an opinion.  The only way to test those out is to go to court. A Law is made when a judgement is made as which of those opinions is correct.”

Portobello Park, at the site of the new high school

“Green space is an asset.  Historically, this will be the third version of Portobello High built on open space.  You have generations who have used it, and it has eaten up three pieces of public space.  Step outside the bounds of Portobello, and look at Edinburgh as whole, there’s a history of building on public space.  There is virtually no green space left in the west of the city for example.   They built all over it, and once a green site is gone, it’s gone forever”

The Portobello Park Action group was formed in 2006 after a public meeting held by Child announced plans to develop on both the Golf course and the park.  The council responded by abandoning plans to build on the golf course.  “It has been our concern from day one that it’s part of a plan to develop that whole area.”

Local SNP councillor Michael Bridgeman was quick to rubbish the notion. “I’m a local lad.  People don’t use the park as much as people are saying, believe me.  But the SNP pledge to leave the golf course and its 150 year history alone” he told Napier News, “Labour was selling off everything, eroding the green belt.  We have published a clear Open Space Strategy.”  He conceded, however, that there were no plans to create new green space in Edinburgh, claiming that the council’s own Strategic Development plan meant that the government required them to commit to new houses.

“The new school is a divisive issue” Bridgeman told us. “The community is divided between those that want the school, and those that don’t.”

Sutherland was quick to tell us “We’re not against building a school.  We recognise the problems of the current school.  What we are saying, what we’ve said all along is why does it have to be built on green space?  Why not the existing site?  I am full of praise for those people who do support saving our park and have overcome personal slurs, threats and insults that have been made against them, publicly.  In the newspaper.”

“I fully acknowledge that for those living nearby this choice is totally unacceptable and very painful indeed.” Child said yesterday.

The PPAG is holding a 5k fun run in the park tonight from 7pm, followed by tea and home baking in St Martin’s church hall.  They hope this will raise awareness for their appeal.