Park and School: We all need to build trust

1.30pm, 21.04.12 Updated to take account of Council papers, as detailed in comments below.

Portobello is a great place to live. The sense of community is wonderful and the quality of life is excellent. There have been strong and much envied campaigns against the proposed supermarket and the waste transfer site. There are excellent groups doing all sorts of interesting and exciting things, like public art and developing proposals for the UK’s first urban community owned wind turbine.

But we are divided on the school on the park.

It’s a difficult one for me, and I find this very hard to write. I can understand the feelings of both sides. I want to put the community first, and make a proposal for the common good of Portobello.

The issue of replacing Portobello High School has damaged relationships in the community. We need to repair those relationships, as well as solve the problem for the school.

Almost everyone agrees there needs to be a new school. The current building is totally inadequate, and is getting worse. It is unfit for our children and unacceptable for our community.

The Council has responded to the need to replace the existing school. Its proposal is to build a new school on Portobello Park. This has set those who enjoy the park against those who want a new school. There are understandably very strong feelings on both sides of this debate. Too many councils have sold or built on green space, putting short term gain ahead of community benefit.

The Council promised replacement Green space (though a considerable distance from Portobello). This promise has been dropped. The Council also failed to check that the common good status of the Park did not interfere with its plans. This failure has added to the uncertainty and to the hostility within the community.

Media reports that the Council was demanding upfront payments from the Park campaign before they lodge an appeal did not help the situation. The very reporting of these threats sets a dangerous precedent for anyone who wants to challenge the Council in future. It is not what you do if you want to build trust. I’m pleased that this threat has not been included in the report for next week’s council meeting.

The very real need for a new school has been set against the need to protect green space. In this situation there can be no winner.

For those who want a new school built on the park every week’s delay adds to their anxiety about the future of their children. Those who want to protect green space see the Council’s actions as extremely damaging.

I think that any new school must go on the Park. At this stage I don’t see a realistic alternative.

The Council must act to ensure the best outcome for Portobello’s children and reduce the tension in the Community. It is the time for the Council to show leadership, and rebuild trust. We need to move on.

My proposal is simple. Given the strength of the comments by Lady Dorrian in the initial case, it seem unlikely that the Park will be retained. No real good will come from taking it further, and so the campaigners should drop their appeal. I know this will be hard, having put so much energy and time into it.

In return the Council should designate the current school site for green space. The current proposal to sell the site for housing won’t create the cash that was hoped for in 2006 when it was first proposed to sell the site. There are several sites in Portobello (like the former Scottish Power site and the Fun Park site) that have been unused for several years. This is a chance to regain some green space for Portobello residents.

We have to rebuild trust. Both the Council and by the Park Campaign need to give some ground in order to rebuild trust. I hope my proposal means a new school can be built as quickly as possible and ensures replacement green space at the heart of Portobello, instead of everyone being caught up in bitter arguments.

We need to solve this problem quickly, for Portobello’s children, for the community and for our future. And we need to do so by building bridges, not continuing to divide the community.


6 thoughts on “Park and School: We all need to build trust

  1. Bob Jefferson April 20, 2012 / 5:30 pm

    Peter, I’m delighted that you have come to a conclusion on this matter after some considerable deliberation! Many people agree that the current site should be returned to green space – Maureen Child for one. But you do realise, of course, that some of this space will be required for St John’s to expand into? And that the £3M (just a guess) that the remaining land might be worth to a developer is money that would be ring-fenced for the school building programme, with St John’s first in line to benefit? And do we really need more green space in such close proximity to Figgate Park? I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you, I just think it maybe needs more thought. How about re-locating the Golf Course? Wouldn’t that make a fabulous park for the whole community? Anyway, while you contemplate that particular can of worms, we do appreciate your difficult decision and hope that you will now be happy to sign our petition, asking PPAG to drop their appeal at:

  2. Sarah April 20, 2012 / 7:57 pm

    A nice balanced piece and you are right – we need to repair the bad feelings caused by this as well as deal with the urgent need for a new school. I am pleased yo have reached this decision – I often vote green but wouldn’t have felt able to without clear indication you were behind the new school.

  3. Sean Watters (@seanieRW) April 20, 2012 / 11:57 pm

    The Council hasn’t demanded up-front payments before lodging an appeal:

    “3.24 The option is available for the Council to request the Court to make an order in respect of caution for the costs of the appeal. This would mean that the appellant would have been required to find security for the costs of the action and to satisfy the Court that such security was in place before they were allowed to proceed with the appeal. This option remains available but has not yet been pursued.”

    Why are you saying things that aren’t true?

    • Peter McColl April 21, 2012 / 1:36 pm


      Thanks for your comment and for bringing this to my attention. There was no intention to say anything untrue. The article was written (though admittedly not published) before that report was available and my statement was based on this report: I was perhaps hasty in publishing it without reviewing the Council papers.

      I’ve edited the article to reflect the Council’s report.

  4. Justin Kenrick April 23, 2012 / 4:31 pm

    Thanks Peter for a very clear and positive proposal.

    It will be GREAT when this issue is no longer dividing the very people who care most passionately about this community and who otherwise could be working TOGETHER to extraordinary effect.

    To make these steps would require real boldness. To accept that the community have been pushed into a corner by the Council so that the only chance of a much-needed new school happening soon is for it to be on the park, to drop the appeal, would be a huge move. And for those so passionate about the need for a new school to step forward and make common cause with those those seeking to protect our green spaces, to join with them to demand the Council keeps to its earlier commitment to ensure we have replacement green space would also require boldness and generosity. But then: what is the point of having a saved park or a new school in the park, if the community that is supposed to enjoy that preserved park or new school remains so bitterly divided by the process? Here’s hoping Porty can move on, and we can all win.

  5. Bob Jefferson April 29, 2012 / 10:10 pm

    I think that it’s a bit of a myth really to suggest that the community is so bitterly divided. The truth is that most people want the school build to go ahead, and that includes many people who originally supported PPAG in wishing to preserve green space. We are left with a very small number of very determined people who are hell-bent on taking this all the way to the Supreme Court, regardless of the considerable damage and cost this will cause. And it’s a bit of a cop-out to blame the Council. Ask any local parent who is to blame for the current situation. I’m happy enough that the remaining land on the current site once St John’s is re-built is kept as recreational space, and I note that the Labour group support this, but I can’t say that I regard it as a big issue either way. As for the Golf Course, it remains Common Good land so the Council couldn’t develop it even if they wanted to. The scare story that PPAG persist with that housing will be built on the park is just nonsense and one of several misrepresentations that triggered the recent special meeting of Portobello Community Council. Rather than try to please both sides and deflect the blame onto the Council, people would have a lot more respect for Peter if he were to say, you know what, saving green space is really important, we are the Greens after all, but it’s not an end in itself because that would just be mindless dogma and we’re brighter than that. On this occasion, every case on its merits, I can see that losing this green space is justified for the wider benefits it brings to the community.

    Now, what about the rest of this huge green area? Hmm, a few guys with sticks knocking a little white ball around on acres of lovely green space. I’m thinking wild flower meadows, allotments, wildlife ponds, orchards. A few chickens. A windmill Peter, a windmill!

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