Last night, to my horror, I found myself agreeing with Eric Pickles, the former local government minister for the Tories. A few years back, he said that “meeting Britain’s energy needs should not be used to justify the wrong development in the wrong place.” Of course, he meant that no one should be able to put up wind turbines – a view that pervades the Conservative Party and is slowly corroding what ought to be a thriving renewables industry in Scotland whilst condemning us to worsening climate change.
But I do agree that local democracy and sensitive development should go hand in hand with meeting our energy needs responsibly and sustainably. It’s with that sentiment that I joined the panel to discuss a proposed anaerobic digestion plant near Ballencrieff in East Lothian last night, alongside local people who have formed a campaign group against the proposals.
In front of what must have been a couple of hundred people, spokespeople for the campaign group No gas works East Lothian set out the research they had done about the proposal. In their view, as in mine, this proposal was too big and poorly sited. The proposed plant would be the largest of its kind in Scotland, if not the UK, using agricultural waste products as well as crops grown specifically for the purposes of being used for gas and electricity production. That scale, coupled with the doubling of HGV traffic on the small access roads which have been the site of many accidents, was enough to give the campaigners cause for concern.
In addition to the concerns around the size and location of the proposed plant, there were questions posed about the company poised to run the plant – United Utilities. One of the speakers pointed out that the company had repeatedly been prosecuted and fined for environmental and trading breaches, including a case described by the judge as a “catastrophic failure”.
For me, the issue is this; the proposal is an industrial development of a scale out of proportion with its surroundings and in a location which clearly poses some issues for the local infrastructure. Yet the proposed development is not deemed by the council to need an environmental impact assessment or even a proper community consultation because, in their eyes, this is an agricultural development, not an industrial one. I would argue, as many did tonight, that this is undoubtedly an industrial development and one which needs to be seen as such.
It’s clear to me that there are still conversations to be had, issues to be scrutinised and problems to be resolved. Otherwise this will remain the wrong development in the wrong place.
NB planning objections must be submitted by Friday 6th November. See the campaign page for more details.