Cockenzie disappointment after decision

Monday February 25th 2019

Cockenzie

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

A lack of alternative plans has been blamed for a decision to allow a substation to be built on a coastal site which has been earmarked to bring more than 3,000 jobs to East Lothian.

Disappointment at the Scottish Government’s decision to allow offshore windfarm firm Inch Cape to build the substation on the former Cockenzie Power Station site has been expressed by local politicians and councillors.

However, in her submission on the proposal to Scottish Ministers, which was published for the first time on Friday, the Scottish Government Reporter pointed to a “lack of evidence” of any of the alternative proposals for the site.

And she said she remained in the dark over East Lothian Council’s failure to adopt a masterplan which was published on its behalf in November 2017 setting out a clear vision for the future of the 98 hectare site.

Scottish Ministers called in the application by Inch Cape, who want to bring energy from their offshore windfarm onto land at the site, earlier this year.

The move was announced as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was visiting China where she met representatives of the Chinese State run Red Rock, which own Inch Cape.

The Reporter held a public inquiry into the planning application last year and heard submissions from Inch Cape, the local authority and Cockenzie and Port Seton Community Councils.

Inch Cape had argued that despite the Masterplan, drawn up after extensive public meetings about the future of the site, and documents produced by both community councils outlining their own aspirations for the land, their proposal was the ‘only credible plan on the table’.

And in her submission to Scottish Ministers, the Reporter agreed.

She said: ”It remains unclear to me why the council has failed to endorse the masterplan as a statement of council policy.

“There is reference to a number of port investors who have expressed interest in the site but neither the council nor any other party were able to provide evidence of this.

“The council’s submissions also allude to potential alternative uses and expressions of interest from other users. However no concrete evidence was produced in respect of any competing users.

“My conclusion is that there is currently no competing use for this site.”

Scottish Ministers approved the planning application on Friday after considering the Reporter’s findings which placed the national importance of the site, which is identified for energy renewal above local aspirations.

It also pointed out that the future of the site under national guidelines was always going to see the power station replaced with another building, adding: “The sort of energy related development envisaged by the National Planning Framework was unlikely ever to be small scale or diminuitive in appearance.”

Councillor John McMillan, East Lothian Council’s cabinet spokesperson for economic development, said: ““We are hugely disappointed with this decision.

“We acquired the former Cockenzie Power Station site because we recognised its importance to local communities and its potential for economic development and jobs.

“We remain of the view that the substation does not need to be built as it is currently proposed, as this will diminish the ability to bring new jobs to the area.”

Iain Gray, East Lothian MSP, also expressed disappointment saying: ““This decision should never have been taken away from the local community. I think local people will be angry that a decision has been made by an SNP Government Minister that rides roughshod over local interests”

Councillor Lachlan Bruce, ward member for the Preston Seton Gosford area, said: “Losing this vital part of the Cockenzie site would have a damaging effect on the aim of creating jobs and is not the right course of action, particular when there are other areas of the site the substation easily could go.

“This whole situation has been a farcical from the moment the Scottish Government decided to call the application in taking it away from local decision makers.”

Ian Johnson, ICOL Project Manager, said: “The onshore planning consent is a key milestone in the ICOL project and will ensure the project can move forwards within the required timescales.”

“We look forward to continuing the positive work we have been doing with East Lothian Council and the local communities in order to finalise plans and agreements and ensure construction can begin on time in 2020.

“The project will act as a positive catalyst in the local area as it continues to go through a period of change following the closure of the power station.”

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