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Darling pleads for primary as fate of three city schools is put to vote

posted 21 Nov 2008, 04:10 by myEdinburgh Admin   [ updated 21 Nov 2008, 04:12 ]
CHANCELLOR Alistair Darling has joined the fight to save Westburn Primary School from the axe. Mr Darling, the MP for Edinburgh South West, has written to the council's children and families department criticising the plan to close the Wester Hailes school's doors from next June.

Having visited the school earlier this year, he said it was in a "far better" condition than council reports suggested.
A decision on the proposed closure of Westburn, as well as Lismore Primary in Bingham, and Bonnington Primary in Leith, was due to be made today by members of the full council.

The vote is expected to be extremely tight, with campaigners admitting that even if they gained the support of the Conservative and Green councillors, as they hope, it would mean a tie.

In such a scenario, the casting vote will be made by Lord Provost George Grubb, who as a Liberal Democrat, would be expected to vote with the administration and back the proposed closures.

If granted, Lismore and Bonnington primaries will close at Christmas, while Westburn Primary will shut next June.

City leaders say the closures are being made to deal with a huge over-capacity problem in city primary schools. A council report said Westburn had been recommended for closure as it was "the only realistic option to address this over-capacity".

Officials also said Westburn Primary had the lowest local roll, with just 135 pupils, and only 36 per cent of children in the catchment area attend the school. Education chiefs expect to make £1.4 million by selling the Sighthill Road site. In his letter to the council, Mr Darling wrote: "Having visited the school it is in far better physical condition than the report suggests. Indeed, a substantial sum of money appears to have been spent on the school in recent years, including on its roof.

"As the school is open-plan I suspect that some of the assertions made in relation to the occupancy are misleading.

"The school seemed to be comfortably full . . . and is valued not just by parents but by those living in the immediate area."

Mr Darling's support was welcomed by local councillor Ricky Henderson, Labour's education spokesman, who said: "I think it is very significant that the local Member of Parliament, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has decided to speak out in support of keeping this school open."

David Corcoran, a member of the parents' group fighting plans to close Westburn, said: "I'm hoping the council will see sense and not go ahead with the closure."

Education leader councillor Marilyne MacLaren, said: "I appreciate this is a difficult time for the school communities involved but I am confident that in the longer term our proposals are in the best interests of all school pupils in the city."


Source:  Edinburgh Evening News