Scottish Government defends decision to call in Chinese-backed planning application in East Lothian
Ministers will make a decision over plans to build a wind energy substation in Cockenzie
Cockenzie Power Station - Image credit: unknown
The Scottish Government has defended its decision to call in a Chinese-backed planning application for a wind energy substation in East Lothian without the council having a say in it.
Labour and the Lib Dems have questioned the decision to call in the application on the site of the former Cockenzie power station in the week that the First Minister is in China.
Labour MSP Iain Gray said he would be writing to SNP ministers to ask why the application by Inch Cape Offshore Limited (ICOL) had been taken out of the hands of East Lothian Council before any decision had been made.
He also raised concerns about the timing of the decision, which has been announced while Nicola Sturgeon is in China promoting business links.
ICOL is owned by Red Rock Power Limited, a subsidiary of China's State Development and Investment Corporation.
The First Minister opened Red Rock's Edinburgh offices in November 2016.
The company's application for the former Cockenzie Power Station site is to build a substation to bring offshore energy from a planned wind farm into the National Grid.
However, it is understood that it would be operated remotely and will not bring in any local jobs.
Gray said: “This decision is a disgrace. I have spent years arguing that local planning decisions must be taken in East Lothian, not by Scottish Government ministers.
"I am very concerned that ministers have chosen to remove this decision from our local representatives.
“The Cockenzie site is critical for local job creation and that could be jeopardised by the placing of a substation right in the middle of it.
"In the interests of democracy this is a decision that should be taken in East Lothian, with local interests put first, and I will be seeking an explanation from ministers as to why they have taken it out of the hands of the council and the community and why this has occurred just now while the First Minister is in China."
Liberal Democrat energy spokesperson Liam McArthur said: “Cutting local representatives out of the loop, before they have even come to a decision, risks giving the impression that Scottish ministers are more interested in touting for Chinese business than respecting local decision making.
"Scotland needs to harness its offshore wind resources, but this a strange decision for ministers to take at this stage and local people will understandably wonder how their views will now be taken into account."
The First Minister met with the State Development Investment Corporation on Tuesday in Beijing, but a Scottish Government spokesperson said that the planning application was not raised or discussed during the meeting.
The Scottish Government said that the decision to call in the planning application has been approved by Kevin Stewart because the Cockenzie Power Station site is included in the National Planning Framework 3 and the application could raise matters of national importance.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “There is absolutely no connection between the decision to call in the Inchcape planning application and the First Minister’s visit to China and any suggestion otherwise is wrong.
“The development is in an area covered by the National Planning Framework and raised issues that require to be considered by ministers.
“The decision was taken by the Planning Minister, Kevin Stewart, on the 4th April and actioned by planning officials on 9th April.
They added: “The First Minister is not meeting with Red Rock Power whilst in China.
“As set out in the First Minister’s China blog, the FM met with the State Development Investment Corporation (SDIC) during her visit to China and the issue was not discussed.”
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