Court decision on local residents’ community right-to-buy claims expected imminently
COMMUNITY campaigners are awaiting the results of a last ditch legal plea to buy up the land around the Cockenzie power plant site amid fears that the historic area will be subsumed by industrial development.
The concerns of members of communities including Cockenzie and Port Seton, Prestonpans, Longniddry and Meadowmill were first prompted by the revelation of plans by Scottish Enterprise to construct a massive industrial park in 2014, after the Cockenzie power plant was closed in 2013.
The land is currently owned by Scottish Power, which operates the plant.
Though the initial plans for development were abandoned in 2015, Scottish Enterprise and East Lothian Council have expressed interest in future development, leading the Coastal Regeneration Alliance (CRA) to establish itself as a publicly limited company and apply to the Scottish Government for the right to purchase the land under community right to buy (CRtB) legislation.
The Scottish Government rejected the proposals in February 2016. CRA appealed the decision on 5-6 August in Edinburgh Sheriff Court, the judgement of which is expected imminently.
Ed Bethune of CRA told CommonSpace that members of the local community felt that current right-to-buy legislation and procedures left communities on the back foot.
He said: “We feel that the CRtB [right to buy] legislation is weighted against the community – we are the people who care most about this land and will make it an asset for the community to be proud of, enhancing it for locals and visitors alike. All we ask is that chance to do that.
“We feel that we have been abandoned by Scottish Power, following a great relationship for 50 years.”
The initial Scottish Enterprise plans, which campaigners claim they only became aware of after they were revealed in the local press in summer 2014, would see extensive building work on top of publicly accessible and scenic park lands which include the Greenhills and the historic site of the battle of Prestonpans in 1745.
The industrial park would have been used to build and repair wind turbines. Offshore windfarms, which are also billed to be constructed off the scenic coast, also face resistance by groups including CRA and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
Video of the green space in Cockenzie made by CRA
Though the initial plans were abandoned in 2015 following a public outcry, Scottish Enterprise has committed to continue with plans to develop the area, investing £40,000 in a masterplan for the former power station site, also contributed to by East Lothian Council, which has itself invested £150,000. Other business interests have also indicated interest in the future of the site.
The CRA’s bid for the site rested on members of the community’s desires to see a regeneration of the green space adjacent to the power plant site. Their bid was rejected by the Scottish Government both on the grounds that regeneration proposals were a “wish list” and that the application was late, though CRA maintain that they could not have acted before they did, and that they kept to every deadline during the CRtB process.
Chair of CRA and local Shona Brash told CommonSpace: “We’ve always had a good balance between industry and greenspace. That’s what we want to keep.
“Of course we want industry and jobs, but we want our children to be able to use the green space just as we did.”
A spokesperson for Scottish Enterprise told CommonSpace that it intended to develop the site.
She said: “We held a number of community engagement events with the local community in 2014, as well as publicising our proposals through the local media. Following this consultation and changes in the offshore wind market we decided not to proceed with the proposals.
“However, at that time we committed to work with our partners looking at future options for the site.”
The Cockenzie dispute is reaching a head after years of Scotland-wide campaigning for land reform.
The Our Land campaign festival kicks-off today (12 August) in order to raise demands for a more radical land reform which gives communities and individuals greater access to and power over Scottish land. Scotland has one of the most unequal distributions of land in Europe, with more than half of private Scottish land held by 432 people.
The Scottish Government told CommonSpace that it was unable to comment on the case until the Sheriff Court had arrived at its decision on CRA’s appeal.
Scottish Power was asked to comment on the dispute, but had not replied by time of publication. East Lothian Council said they were unable to provide comment by time of publication.
The Sheriff Court decision on CRA’s appeal will be announced within four weeks from 6 August, though campaigners expect a decision imminently.
Pictures: cowrin, CommonSpace
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