61 acres of West Lothian farmland to be tarmaced

Saturday May 20th 2023


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Stuart Sommerville

The Scottish Government has backed plans to tarmac over 61 acres of farmland for industrial use in West Lothian, despite concerns brownfield sites are lying unused.

The move will see the last open fields of Cousland Farm, between Livingston and the village of Seafield on the A705, disappear under a business park.

The council had rejected the proposals last August, backing community criticism, and agreeing with the argument that there are already acres of unused light industrial space in the new town and surrounding villages.

However a Reporter appointed by the Scottish Government’s Division of Planning and Environmental Appeals (DPEA) supported the appeal by Hallam Land Management and the Rosebery Estates that the development of Cousland Farm to the north and south of the A705 be allowed.

He also awarded expenses costs against the council, agreeing with the claimants that the council had been “unreasonable” in rejecting their application.

Bathgate SNP councillor Willie Boyle had won a motion of rejection after highlighting the notorious Freeport shopping centre at West Calder which has lain empty and near derelict for almost 30 years.

Seafield community council’s chairman Damian Byrne said the development would “completely ruin the rural atmosphere” of the village and its views, from open fields to urban landscape.

He described the creation of a “doughnut of dereliction” in Livingston with a centre of hollowed out brownfield sites and all new build on the edge of town.

The Scottish Government Reporter, J Alasdair Edwards, in his written submission, conceded that the development would see the loss “of greenfield land and hedgerow, and five individual trees.”

However he added: “I agree with the results of the appellant’s tree survey that the trees to be felled are not of high biodiversity value. Similarly, the hedgerow to be lost has not been identified as being of high value.

“In any case, the indicative layout shows new landscape buffers, structural tree planting, amenity grassland and meadow creation which could provide biodiversity improvements and retain wildlife corridors. The final landscape proposals could be suitably controlled by condition. Therefore, the loss of natural resources on the site could be suitably mitigated.”

The council earmarked the land for light industrial development as part of its own Local Development Plan to promote business and employment and thus planners recommended granting permission.

In August, having seen ripening crops laying a carpet of colour on the land as it slopes to the green banks of the river Almond, Councillor Stuart Borrowman, the chair of the DMC admitted: “On the site visit I confess, looking south across the fields down to the Almond, it’s beautiful. It seems a great shame that the best we can come with is that it should be for industrial development. I don’t sense anyone’s heart is in this today.”

Councillor Boyle swayed members behind his motion.

He told the August meeting: “The idea that we desperately need this development site in a greenfield site I have great difficulty with. The reality is there is vacant property, there’s vacant sites. We have no shortage of vacant sites that can be developed. Freeport is sitting there, and sitting empty. I have serious concerns.”

Villagers had argued that open space should be retained for mental health and well- being.

In his judgement the Reporter said: “The risks of mental health deterioration are not sufficiently evidenced in this case to suggest that permission should be withheld”.

He added: “I appreciate that there are strong concerns regarding development of the appeal site and that construction and a change to the appearance of the area could affect mental health for some.

“However, I consider that overall the indicative layout shows that a high quality environment could be created, amenity safeguarded and views retained.”

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