Tuesday March 24th 2015
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 previouslyTweet Share on Facebook
This is an excellent summary of a very detailed topic and one which affects everyone in Midlothian. People at the meeting were very annoyed that objections were being overwhelmingly ignored and there appeared to be no way to ensure community wishes were respected, or accommodated. For Mr. Beattie to suggest that people needed to get angry to force elected representatives to act, he was simply shifting responsibility, from the people in power, to the victims (the community). What we need are elected representatives who listen to, and act in the interests of, the people who elect them. We need HIM – and others like him – to act. Government, both local and national know that communities throughout Scotland are furious with unresponsive government. It’s time for them to put their house in order.
Well said Bill. The sacrifice of Midlothian town centres on the altar of big international business is a testament to how planners pander to developers. I have yet to see our elected representatives stand up to big developers (e.g. Peel Group) or supermarkets. Even the last 10 years have seen a massive deterioration in the high streets & the planners/councillors claim they are powerless to force development in appropriate brownfield or town-centre locations. The truth is we HAVE been getting angry – it gets us no-where as those who should be protecting the interests of their constituents are instead facilitating the activities of those individuals & corporations whose sole ambition is to make big profits, regardless of the consequences to the sustainability of our communities & environment.
I am pleased to see that some people like Bill Kerr-Smith and Shirley Sheyes are of the same opinion as ourselves, that being the Bonnyrigg Greenbelt Action Group. I find it unacceptable that planners are able to give, and developers are able to obtain planning permission for developments, then sit in the background and wait until it suits their needs. Once you open a door towards that purpose anything can happen. As we know ALDI are requesting permission to open a retail store at Mayshade Garden Centre, already there are rumours the Macdonald’s are proposing a drive through take away. So much for Coalescence !. How can we as a community sit back and accept ( as was stated at the meeting by a local councillor) that it does not matter how many object, the decision has been made and that’s that. Regardless of what most people think, it is never to late to make your feelings felt, so, all you people in the community, get on your soapbox and lets be heard !
I don’t want to live in Midlothian any more; it no longer offers an environment where I can enjoy leading a fit and healthy lifestyle, which for me involves being able to do my preferred sports of cycling, running and horse riding in my free time in safety and in a pleasant environment. Living in the middle of what is effectively a new town, but without the infrastructure of integrated roads, pavements and cycle paths that would usually go along with that, is not my idea of a pleasant environment. The lack of building of a footpath alongside the road between Dobbie’s Garden Centre and Tesco, past the new hotels that have been built, is utterly ridiculous. To see people trudging along a main road a few centimetres away from heavy traffic is inexplicable. I don’t want to shop in yet another out of town retail shopping centre with yet again the same shops selling the same limited choice of goods. Even getting to the pfi-financed sports facilities involves driving. I am currently living in Utrecht, and trying to sell my house to escape from the area. The contrast between the respect for the green belt here in The Netherlands and the retained rural nature on the outskirts of Utrecht (despite a much higher population density) is striking, and makes Midlothian’s planning policy (which seems to consist of facilitating large house-builders building as many concrete boxes as they want) is striking.