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.