Midlothian Local Development Plan and its effect on Local Communities

Tuesday March 24th 2015

MLDP Panel
From left to right: George Barnes, Jon Grounsell, John Barton, Colin Beattie MSP, Professor David Hume.

Editor Phil Bowen

It’s time for communities to get angry and be heard, so said Colin Beattie MSP at a meeting to discuss the Midlothian Local Development Plan.

The meeting was held on Monday night at Lasswade High School organised by the Bonnyrigg Green Belt Action Group to discuss the Midlothian Development Plan and its effect on Local Communities.

The evening was chaired by Professor David Hume, a director of the Roslin Institute, a major employer within Midlothian. There were four speakers; John Barton and George Barnes of the Bonnyrigg Green Belt Action Group, Jon Grounsell, an architect, town planner and member of the Cockburn Association and Colin Beattie MSP for Midlothian North and Musselburgh.

Representatives of the Midlothian Council Planning Department had been invited but failed to reply to the invite.

An audience of ninety four came to listen.(*)

What is the Midlothian Development Local Plan? The current development plan for Midlothian consists of the Strategic Development Plan for South East Scotland (approved June 2013) and the Midlothian Local Plan (adopted December 2008). The Midlothian Local Plan (2008) will remain in force until it is replaced by the Midlothian Local Development Plan (MLDP). The MLDP is due to be issued for public consultation 14 May 2015 until 26 June 2015. Though a proposed version of the MLDP is available now having been discussed and agreed by Midlothian Council prior to Christmas.

John Barton and George Barnes spoke first. They are the founder members of the Bonnyrigg Green Belt Action Group, whose stated aim is to protect existing Greenbelt around Bonnyrigg and maintain the town as a rural area to live. They voiced their concern that the MLDP will mean a loss of community, a loss of greenbelt and a loss of wildlife. They said that due to the development of new houses in the area in recent years and the planned housing to come, Bonnyrigg was losing its rural way of life and identity.

They cited the example of the proposed development of 56 two storey houses on the Broomieknowe golf course practice ground submitted by Cala homes to the Midlothian planning department. They said that if the proposal goes ahead it will be a serious breach of greenbelt between Bonnyrigg and Eskbank.

They also said that the housing developments would put further strain on the road infrastructure in the county which is already struggling to cope.

Jon Grounsell, from the Cockburn Assocation, spoke about coalesence and the loss of community. Coalesence being the term to describe two communities merging together.

He pointed out that at Leith Docks, plans have been approved to build 28,500 houses on the brownfield site there, however, whilst the housing applications have been approved the developers are not proceeding to build. Instead the developers prefer to build in Midlothian, as being a greenfield site it is easier, cheaper and thus more profitable to build upon. Consequently the MLDP has plans to build 7,800 new houses in Midlothian, which is understood to be the biggest growth rate in Scotland.

As a result of this development, communities such as Bonnyrigg and Eskbank will merge together as the greenbelt currently separating them will be built upon, he said.

Jon Grounsell also said that Midlothian currently has a very high quality landscape with it being close to Edinburgh but surrounded by views of the Pentlands and green open fields. Once the developers move in then this landscape will be lost forever.

Colin Beattie MSP, also spoke out against the MLDP. Making an eloquent speech, he made the case that whilst there would be an increase of council tax revenue from the new houses this would be less than the cost of the required infrastructure and services.

He also said that communities need to come up with innovative ways and ideas to improve their town centres. Town centres cannot compete with the large retail parks of Straiton and Kinnaird Park so must find new ways to attract people. He suggested that town centres needed to have a reason for people to come to them, be that for entertainment or for artisan shops.

After the speeches the chair, Professor David Hume, hosted a question and answer session. Although as everyone in the meeting was of the same mind in that they were against the MLDP he suggested that the discussion be of ways to challenge and oppose the MLDP.

The members of the audience voiced their concerns and frustrations that the community was not being listened to by Midlothian Council and by the Scottish Government. Many people said that the planning process ground communities down when they appealed and eventually the developers win.

All on the panel agreed, as well as Councillors Derek Milligan and Ian Baxter who were in the audience.

Colin Beattie, saying that he thought the planning process must be broken since even if 100% of all the people of Midlothian said they objected to the MLDP it would still go through as there needed to be a technical reason for it to be stopped rather than a community objecting. He said the process had become a box ticking exercise in which the views of the community were not considered and that this went against the current drive to empower communities.

Members of the audience asked who was accountable for the MLDP, since Midlothian Council planners had previously said it was not up to them but up to the Scottish Government. When pressed Colin Beattie said, ultimately it was Alex Neil MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights, who was accountable for the MLDP.

Mr Beattie also said that he was trying to arrange a parliamentary debate about the plan, though he said he needed three parties to sign up to the debate and so far only two parties had.

The panel and the audience agreed that groups across Midlothian needed to come together to object to the MLDP. Several on the panel making the point that throughout the county these groups have built up the experience of objecting to planning applications and therefore, this experience needs to be utilised across Midlothian.

That is when Mr Beattie said that in order to object to the MLDP people needed to get angry, need to get their voices heard and ensure their elected representatives do something about it.

Further information about the MLDP can be found at www.midlothian.gov.uk/mldp

If you would like to comment about the MLDP please do so below.

(*)27/03/15: Public attendance corrected to be 94 rather than 50 as stated previously

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