Apparently we’re due a heatwave this week. I’ll believe that when I feel it! But there’s a good chance of a heated debate (see what I did there?) at Tuesday’s full meeting of East Lothian Council, as the proposed Local Development Plan for the county is the only item of business.
It’s a massive issue, with the earlier draft proposal causing concerns in almost every community, notably in Musselburgh over the suggestion of allowing 1,000 houses to be built on greenbelt land at Goshen. This was withdrawn in the end, but not before the somewhat childish SNP group chose to storm out of the meeting without actually engaging in the debate. Perhaps this time they’ll buckle up and get stuck in, as elected representatives should.
The officials are recommending approval, and you can view the squillions of related documents here.
A quick rummage and I still have concerns, ranging from housing and fracking to air quality and the NHS. I wonder if any of our councillors will air these points?
While the 1,000 house Goshen development on the east side of Musselburgh thankfully remains off the table, I notice the plan now includes a 1,500 house development to the south-west of the town at Craighall. The land earmarked is just beyond QMU and the A1 bypass. (See black and white striped zone bottom left of this map.)
As well as 1,500 houses, it is allocated for employment, a new local centre and a new primary school. There’s no clarity on the employment uses, and it does feel like it is being earmarked as it’s next to the A1 so is likely to encourage even more private car use in the area. Quite what walking and cycling links there will be with QMU and the main town of Musselburgh isn’t clear either.
The proposed LDP also notes East Lothian “contains reserves of onshore gas including coalbed methane and that LDPs should support extraction subject to local planning considerations.” It goes on: “Proposals for … the extraction of onshore oil or gas or coal bed methane will only be permitted where there will be no significant adverse impact on the environment or the local community.”
It then lists criteria including noise, traffic, landscape impact and the water environment. But there is no mention of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions or the scientific and economic reality that we already have access to more fossil fuels than we can burn. This LDP should be ruling out fracking and coal gas full stop. There’s also no mention of offshore coal gas. Areas of the Forth off Musselburgh are already licensed and would require onshore infrastructure. What an appalling omission. If the council approves this plan it essentially leaves the door ajar to dangerous drilling techniques on our doorsteps.
The LDP supports the site of the old coal power station “as a location for non-nuclear baseload electricity generating capacity and associated infrastructure, potentially including facilities for carbon capture and storage.” It also recognises its potential for renewable energy and port developments. It says: “If competing proposals emerge, those with greatest economic benefits and which make best use of the location’s assets are to be prioritised.”
It’s disappointing that it says nothing about how the local communities can influence such a decision. Given the bull-in-china-shop approach by Scottish Enterprise and the subsequent knock back for community ownership by the Scottish Government, I don’t think the LDP helps give control to local people at all.
The LDP says: “If Torness Power Station were decommissioned this would bring significant implications … in terms of restoration, waste disposal and the after use of the site.” While this is a helpful reminder of nuclear power’s toxic legacy and eyewatering costs, it’s disappointing that it does nothing to encourage the local authorities to start planning now for an economy without Torness.
The LDP briefly mentions Musselburgh’s air pollution problems, caused by traffic congestion in the High Street. There is still no firm action, with yet again the prospect of “relocation of bus stops” mentioned, when what’s really needed is a commitment to invest in actions to reduce the amount of traffic coming into the town.
In fact, the LDP’s associated “Action Plan” merely says the council will “support and encourage” improvements to “parking provision, public transport … enhanced pedestrian and cycle routes.” The council should be delivering a programme of improvements. A fat lot of good “encouraging” will do. Who else can make the changes necessary?
The LDP says “It is important that new development and associated road traffic does not exacerbate air quality issues” in the High Street. This is obviously too late for all the development already underway and recently completed at Pinkie. Will it capture developments proposed for Edenhall hospital and Levenhall?
The proposed LDP Action Plan also states: “The provision of an Urban Traffic Control system and the signalisation of the junction at the A199 and New Street, the A199 Linkfield Road and Millhill, and Inveresk Road and Newbigging junctions to an adoptable standard to manage the vehicle flows through Musselburgh town centre to acceptable levels.”
So, traffic lights at the Racecourse/Loretto school junction, and traffic lights at the Quay? I’m not sure how this will help with air quality and I wonder if this hints at a future traffic route avoiding the High Street. In other words, the opening of the Electric Bridge. I do hope not!
The LDP does not appear to list Levenhall links and lagoons as a potential Local Nature Reserve, which would help protect this wildlife and recreation haven from unwanted developments. But its status as a Special Protection Area and Ramsar site is mentioned, so I’m unclear what the council is waiting for. Local Nature Reserve status must come soon.
The LDP Action Plan talks about the creation of a “transport hub” near Musselburgh railway station. “Approximately 1.5 ha of land is safeguarded adjacent to Musselburgh station to reflect the Council’s aspirations that a rail related transport hub with car parking, bus and active travel access be delivered to the SW of the Mucklets Road.” Intriguing!
The proposed new secondary school at Wallyford, costing £38m, is mentioned but there’s no reference to improving the existing Musselburgh Grammar School, a sore point with many local parents.
I’m baffled by this point in the LDP Action Plan:
“The three Musselburgh Practices: Eskbridge, Riverside and Inveresk are accommodated in purpose-built premises in the Musselburgh Primary Care Centre completed in 2012. Although the building can accommodate projected population growth in and around Musselburgh, the three Practices are at capacity and would need to recruit further GP and practice team staff to accommodate the projected increase in population. Revenue issue not appropriate to address via developer contributions.”
If I understand that correctly, it means even though new developments will put strain on the local health service, developers won’t be asked to pay to employ additional health workers. How bizarre.
I haven’t looked much beyond Musselburgh in the LDP but one item on my home town of Tranent caught my eye. There remains talk of creating a one way system incorporating Loch Road and High Street and Bridge Street. This will involve linking Loch Road to High Street (demolish the old library?). The purpose? “To increase capacity, improve traffic flow and maintain air quality.” Of course, as anyone familiar with transport planning will tell you, if you increase road capacity you get more traffic. This is the worst kind of 1960s planning. I do hope Belters resist it and push back against the council to reduce traffic in the town instead.
What happens next
The Proposed LDP, assuming it is approved by councillors this week, will be published so that “interested parties” can ask for any final “modifications”. This will last until the end of October, after which the councillors will be asked one last time to approve the plan before it is submitted to Scottish Ministers. They will have the final say.
Let’s hope the plan sees some radical improvement between now and then.