CAMPAIGNERS against the creation of a National Marine Centre in North Berwick have launched the “second phase” of their campaign – while a petition against the plans has attracted more than a thousand signatures.

Plans were submitted to East Lothian Council earlier this summer to see the existing Scottish Seabird Centre extended both outwards and upwards to accommodate the extended marine centre.

But the plans have not won favour with the whole community, with North Berwick Harbour Trust Association (NBHTA) among those against the scheme.

Meanwhile, a petition bidding to “maintain the vibrant community nature of the harbour, stop the harbour from being overdeveloped, keep the open space for community access, protect the panoramic views and stop any development which imposes upon the harbour’s history and heritage” has been set up.

The online petition has already attracted in the region of 1,400 signatures and will be delivered to East Lothian Council.

The Scottish Seabird Centre has vowed to “work closely” with all stakeholders as plans move forward.

NBHTA, which currently has overall responsibility for maintaining the harbour and representing its users, has continually voiced its concerns about the plans, which it says would block iconic views from the harbour.

Jane McMinn, the group’s chairwoman, told the Courier: “NBHTA has a duty to ensure that everyone is very much aware of the threats that the proposals present – to our local economy, local community and local vibrancy.

“We owe it to North Berwick to step up a gear with the launch of the second phase of our campaign ‘Everyone’s Harbour’ – where we will closely examine the contradictory claims of the centre.”

NBHTA is calling for clarification from the Seabird Centre on a number of matters – including projected visitor numbers in light of current declining figures.

The chairwoman added: “It is obvious from our continued contact with the Seabird Centre that everything is not as clearcut as they are making out. For instance, there are many inconsistencies around visitor numbers.

“The centre claimed during presentations it was not their intention to increase visitor numbers. We were advised in May that they did not have projected visitor numbers. Yet a trustee claims in the local press that the plans will bring ‘…many new visitors’.

“It would seem that the centre is either concealing information or does not know its head from its tail – or should I say puffin from its pelican.”

The second phase of the campaign will see NBHTA continue to work with the local community and key stakeholders to communicate what it sees as threats to the local area – including causing substantial harm to local businesses and the local economy throughout the construction period.

Tom Brock, chief executive of the Seabird Centre, told the Courier there had already been meetings with NBHTA as the centre looks to create a hub for marine education, conservation and research, including “sharing cutting-edge science”, the delivery of new education programmes and sharing information about marine conservation.

He added: “We want to continue to work closely with all stakeholders and we welcome partnerships with local businesses to ensure that we can provide an improved facility that benefits everyone.

“The marine centre is an amazing opportunity to increase wider understanding of the importance and value of Scotland’s marine environment and wildlife, which is facing many threats.”

Mr Brock said they had ensured a sustainable plan for the future that, with new partnerships, would provide an ever-changing programme of activities, events and exhibitions. He added: “We have piloted the new education programme at local schools and there will be children’s marine wildlife clubs, volunteering, training and work experience opportunities.

“Already our step towards a more marine focus in the centre has been positively received and there has been a 12 per cent increase in visits for this year to-date. We aim to restore centre visitor numbers to previous levels, safeguarding and creating jobs, and helping local businesses.

“With our clear visitor targets, the centre will enhance and complement harbour businesses. Seasonality will be reduced with a spread of new and repeat visitors throughout the year, meaning local businesses and suppliers, in the harbour and beyond, will have the opportunity to benefit.

“The current designs are based on feedback from consultations and aim to be sympathetic to the surrounding environment. They do not extend out into the harbour and there will be stunning new vantage points created from the extended decking, which is free to access.”