Friday, 13 November 2015

Proposed Local Plan Wipes Out Green Belt, Fails To Say No To Fracking, Air Pollution Plan Remains A Mystery

It’s D-Day on Tuesday. Or LDP-Day to be precise.

The Local Development Plan for East Lothian, drafted by officials and following public consultation on the Main Issues Report, will be voted on by councillors meeting at the Brunton Hall in Musselburgh.
The Honest Toun is an appropriate venue for the meeting as there are some honest truths that need said in the debate. Will any of our councillors have the guts to speak up? Have they listened to their communities?

I’ve dipped into the report – it is 154 pages long. I'll attempt to tackle some of the more obvious problems I’ve spotted.

My main focus is on Musselburgh as that is where the bulk of the development is proposed. East Lothian as a whole is expected to come up with land for 10,000 new houses over the next ten years. There’s a proposal for a new town at the old opencast coal mine at Blindwells north of Tranent. But for now I’d like to concentrate of what is being planned for Musselburgh.

The main headline is the recommendation that over 3,000 new homes be built in the Musselburgh area, including 1,000 on greenbelt land at Goshen. Goshen is also earmarked for a new secondary school. The existing Musselburgh Grammar is at bursting point. The way forward on schooling in Musselburgh will also be discussed at the councillors’ meeting in the Brunton but the public will be excluded and no papers are available to view so I don’t know what information officials will feed them.
MGS - at capacity

As for the LDP, the officials acknowledge that local infrastructure is constrained. Yet just a few paragraphs later they talk about using “existing infrastructure capacity”! It’s either constrained or has capacity. Which is it?

This is flawed plan full of contradictions.

In terms of Musselburgh’s existing air pollution problem, the plan says further technical work will be needed to work out “interventions”, and these will need to be costed. In other words, councillors are being asked to agree to allow thousands of extra houses to be built, which they know will worsen an existing problem, without knowing what can be done to minimise that impact and without knowing how much that would cost.
It’s a bit like if you’re struggling to breathe because the rucksack on your back is full and you’re being asked to strap an extra bag to your back on a promise that somebody might come along to ease your burden, although they might empty your wallet in the process. My reaction would be to dump the existing backpack right now!

Developers’ contributions are mentioned. Does this mean if Ashfield get permission for 1,000 homes at Goshen they have to pay to stop air pollution getting worse? What does that look like? Given the solutions and costs Ashfield would have to stump up for haven’t been identified, allocating Goshen for housing is doubly presumptive.

Deeper into the document there’s more detail about the air pollution situation. The only hint we get at what might be done to tackle the problem is “likely improvements” to the bus fleet and relocation of bus stops. As readers will be aware, I’ve long called for improvements to the 500 buses a day that go up Musselburgh High Street, yet when I put this to the council’s so-called environment spokesman, Labour councillor Norman Hampshire, he told the local press that the council couldn’t do anything about emissions from buses. I already have confirmation from transport authorities that ELC does have the power to enforce low emission vehicles in its area, and now the council’s officials are writing this into the local plan. Cllr Hampshire is clearly out of his depth.

As for relocation of bus stops, unless these are completely outwith the air pollution zone – the whole of the High Street – I don’t see how that will help public health. Along with heart disease, we learned this week that exposure to traffic pollution is also linked to type 2 diabetes.

The LDP is quite clear that the effect of extra development in the area will increase traffic flow and emissions. The transport strategy diagram that comes with the plan features a mysterious “road proposals” symbol on Musselburgh town centre. What is the proposal? Or is the council inviting answers on a postcard?
Mystery "road proposal" for Musselburgh

There’s also a reference to new developments being encouraged to avoid exacerbating the problem by planting trees and installing electric car charging points. With 3,000 houses, we’re going to need a hell of a lot of trees and plug sockets!

The plan would require the redefinition of the greenbelt boundary. The belt would become occasional freckles on the map. Just look at the “spatial strategy” map. Almost every last remaining bit of greenspace is to be filled in – 15 sites for development, and only one for safeguarding.
Spot the safeguarded bit of land if you can!

A final point I’d note is the LDP’s reference to unconventional gas extraction, otherwise known as fracking. The plan coyly says the policy has been updated. East Lothian Council in fact had no policy on this issue till now.

It says proposals for onshore oil and gas exploration will be supported if they meet certain conditions. That goes for open cast coal as well. This is a far cry from a fracking-free East Lothian so many of us had hoped for, and goes against the international consensus that we already have access to more fossil fuels than we can afford to burn if we want to limit climate change. There’s also no specific reference to underground coal gasification. Areas of the Forth off Musselburgh are licensed for it but any infrastructure would be required on land.

So, who is this plan for and what’s driving it? Have people been listened to?

The population projections leading to the need to create space for 10,000 homes must be challenged. Yes there are housing pressures but we have derelict land, such as the old Tesco site in the middle of Musselburgh, which I understand is part-owned by East Lothian Council. Let’s start with that. 

My verdict on the LDP? Stick it in the bin and start again!


  1. That's going to be a big queue of cars from Goshen to the Super Tesco in the town centre.

  2. Alarming reading. Thanks for picking through it all. I dont imagine there will be any reference to creating cycling /walking routes from the new schemes to the schools and shops..