The judgement by the Court of Session last week surprised many parents, pupils and local politicians and has thrown the future of the school into further doubt.
The council is now considering its options, including whether to rebuild on the existing site. That is the choice preferred by Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG), which successfully campaigned to overturn an earlier ruling that it was legal to use part of the park.
An appeal to the Supreme Court is possible but could take up to a year – it is almost seven years since proposals to replace the 1960s building were first mooted.
Another idea is to build a “super school” in Craigmillar for pupils from both Portobello and Castlebrae Community High, which the council intends to close, citing a falling roll and poor exam results. However, the EIS union has announced that it intends to fight that closure.
Peigi Macarthur, head at Portobello, said staff and pupils were “reeling and shell-shocked” by the decision: “I’m devastated for the school community because I think the youngsters deserve a school that’s fit for the 21st century,” she said. “I think everyone needs to get round the table and have a plan B in order that we can promise future generations of youngsters a decent school building.”
Cllr Paul Godzik, the city’s education leader, also said he was “shocked” by the decision and promised that the council remained committed to building a new Portobello High.
Alex Lunn, Labour councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston, said half his ward was depending on a new Portobello High School: “I will raise the possibility of a new joint school between Portobello and Castlebrae – that’s one of the options that I’m interested in being considered.”
The row has been bitterly divisive over the last few years, with two rival camps in the eastern part of the city.
Sean Watters, chairman of Portobello for a New School (PFANS), said the reasons for the park site still stood. “The school is deteriorating and there’s a limit to how long you can keep it going. Something needs to be done fairly urgently.”
But PPAG spokeswoman Alison Connelly said: “The decision is a crucial step towards securing valuable green space and parkland for future generations.
“The court’s decision makes it clear that councils do not have the power to appropriate land such as Portobello Park, what’s known as ‘common good land’, to use for purposes other than recreation.”