East Lothian Council has been accused of “hoodwinking” communities after it was claimed the local authority was actively promoting a controversial marine energy park at Cockenzie, to support the offshore windfarm industry, almost a year before the proposals were made public.
A report submitted to the Scottish Government by council officials in August 2013 not only supported the inclusion of the former Cockenzie Power Station in its National Plan Framework, but offered further expansion.
And it urged the Scottish Government to add a deep water quay at Cockenzie to its National Plan.
Early this summer, the Courier revealed that plans were afoot for a massive energy park.
A second round of consultation is still to take place before a planning application is lodged – but many local residents now fear the project is a ‘done deal’.
The report was revealed at a packed meeting of the Coastal Regeneration Alliance (CRA) in Port Seton on Tuesday night.
An estimated 800 people filled Chalmers Memorial Church to hear updates from the CRA’s newly-formed steering group.
A petition by members of the group has gathered thousands of signatures already. It calls on East Lothian Council to halt any developments around the former power station site until it has fully consulted and taken into account the community’s vision for the area.
The proposed energy park would build and repair wind turbines for the offshore windfarm industry and could stretch as far inland from the former power station site as to the former opencast mining site at Blindwells, as well as requiring a deep water quay to be built, reclaiming more than 11 hectares of land to create it.
Despite the potential for a major jobs boost, there are significant concerns from many residents, including the impact on the Greenhills and surrounding amenities, people’s quality of life and the impact of heavy machinery and traffic operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
There was anger as it was revealed the council had known about and been involved in plans for industrial expansion for a year.
One resident said: “They claim they will be open and transparent yet they clearly have not been. It appears we have been hoodwinked – they have been steering this for some time.”
The report, submitted to the Scottish Government by officials while the council was on summer recess last year, was never presented to councillors for approval.
It is the council’s formal response to the Government’s consultation process for its Main Issues Report as it drew up the National Plan Framework 3.
Gareth Jones, from the CRA steering group, told the meeting Cockenzie was not even recognised as a key hub before East Lothian Council’s response was lodged.
He said: “The NPF3 trumps any other decision when it comes to planning decisions in Scotland.
“East Lothian councillors, or at least their cabinet, delegated the response to the consultation to its executive, it was never discussed at a public meeting.
“The first real mention of Cockenzie as a major hub is in the council’s recommendations.”
The MIR report identified Cockenzie, along with Peterhead, as a potential key hub for supporting offshore windfarms.
In the council’s response they said the local authority welcomed the recognition of Cockenzie.
It added: “There is particular support for Cockenzie’s recognition as a key hub for offshore renewable energy, including onshore electricity connections, substations and converter stations in supporting this designation.
“The council would also welcome and would wish to facilitate any further servicing or manufacturing activity related to the offshore renewable industry that might be attracted to Cockenzie as a consequence of such national designation.”
It goes on to says: “There are substantial reserves of developable land, even allowing for the retention of electricity generating use; if required additional flexibility might be available by using some of the nearby vacant land associated with the proposed Blindwells new settlement.”
The council report goes on to ask the Scottish Government to add its waterside potential to the National Policy.
It says “The council is pleased the MIR recognises Cockenzie’s potential and urges Scottish Ministers to confirm national development status in NPF3 on its use for port-related development, as well as a renewable energy interconnector hub.”
At Tuesday night’s meeting there was anger at what many felt was a “done deal” between the council and the Scottish Government over the energy park plans – despite a planning application not expected to be lodged until early next year.
Last week, Councillor John McMillan, the local authority’s spokesman for economic development and tourism, promised the council would be “open and transparent” throughout the planning process. He described the project as a “dream, not a nightmare”, with a “mission to create jobs but also to protect our communities”.
And Councillor Willie Innes, the council leader, said last week that the local authority would “champion consultation” with communities.
There were gasps of disbelief at the packed public meeting on Tuesday as the steering group informed them the council had earlier in the day given planning permission to the Inchcape electrical substation being built on the Battle of Prestonpans site (see story on page 8).
A representative of Seton Sands Holiday Park also spoke at the meeting, pledging their support to the campaign.
She said: “We have circulated the information on our private Facebook page for our members and the response has been incredible.
“The caravan owners may not live here all year round but they are very invested in this community and what happens.
“Seton Sands Holiday Park has a vested interest, we have been here since the 1920s and are not going anywhere.”
Calls were made at the meeting for East Lothian Council to explain why it supported the development without public consultation.
SNP councillors Peter MacKenzie and Stephen Brown attended the public meeting to hear residents’ views.
Mr MacKenzie told the meeting legal restrictions stopped him and other councillors on the planning committee from voicing personal opinions about any proposals before they were voted on by the council.
He said: “I know you would all love me to say I am against this proposal, but I am legally restricted. We are hear to listen to your views.”
The CRA steering group was due to meet with East Lothian MSP Iain Gray yesterday (Thursday) to voice local concern about the developments.
Thousands of people are also being urged to sign a letter to Mr Gray expressing their concern over the plans.
The letter, which has been drawn up by the Coastal Regeneration Alliance, outlines some of the community concerns, including the potential loss of the fishing industry, green space and tourism.
The letter has been made available by the community action group on its Facebook page and is being taken door to door by supporters.
A stall will also be held outside the Co-op in Port Seton tomorrow (Saturday) collecting petition signatures.
An East Lothian Council spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government’s Third National Planning Framework Main Issues Report was an item on the cabinet meeting agenda in June 2013.
“This report published for consultation detailed a number of proposals for the future use of Cockenzie Power Station which was noted and debated by councillors.
“East Lothian Council subsequently prepared a formal response to the consultation and these are all available on public record.”
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