SCOTTISH Ministers have called in plans by a Chinese company to build a giant substation on the site of the former Cockenzie Power Station after declaring it a matter of “national importance”.

In a move which has been branded “disastrous” by one local councillor, the Scottish Government has taken the right to decide the future of the site, which East Lothian Council bought from ScottishPower last month, away from the local authority.

READ MORE: Council takes ownership of power station site

It means that the planning application by Inch Cape Offshore Limited (ICOL), which is owned by Red Rock – a subsidiary of China’s State Development and Investment Corporation – will now be decided by Scottish Ministers, not local councillors.

The announcement comes as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is in the middle of a visit to China to promote business links between the two countries.

Ms Sturgeon officially opened Red Rock’s Edinburgh offices in 2016.

It also comes as Prestonpans Community Council unveils its own campaign to bring a cruise terminal to the site and create the ‘Port of Prestonpans’.

East Lothian Council was told it would have to hand over the decision on the substation to Scottish Ministers on Tuesday.

The Scottish Government has the power to call in applications but this is normally done once the local authority has indicated whether it plans to approve or reject them.

This is a rare occurrence and it will now be down to Scottish Ministers to decide whether a public inquiry will be held.

The Courier understands that no decision had been taken by planners on the proposal, which was submitted two days after the council bought the land.

Energy transmission companies have the power to force the sale of land for their use if they can prove it is in the public interest in Scotland.

Controversially, the Scottish Government called in now-US President Donald Trump’s £1 billion golf resort plans for Aberdeenshire after local councillors planned to reject it in 2008.

That move led to accusations that then-First Minister Alex Salmond had adopted a “cavalier” attitude to the plans.

Ministers told East Lothian Council they were calling in the Inch Cape plan because it was “potentially of national importance in the context of expectations set out in National Planning Framework 3 for the site of the former Cockenzie Power Station and the need for an enhanced high voltage energy transmission network”.

On the Scottish Government website, it states that the decision by ministers will be final and cannot be overturned.

Inch Cape wants to build the substation on the former power station site to bring offshore energy from a planned wind farm into the National Grid.

Ian Johnson, ICOL project manager, said: “As the Inch Cape Offshore Wind project is of national significance, our new application for planning permission in principle has been called in by the Scottish Government. This is not uncommon for a project with such national economic and environmental importance.

“We hope to continue to engage with the local community and East Lothian Council, to listen to any feedback and concerns they may have, as they contribute to the decision-making process in coming months.

“If successful, the project will help achieve the Scottish Government’s goals to minimise our reliance on carbon energy but also act as a positive catalyst in the local area as it continues to go through a period of change following the closure of the power station. By working with the local community and relevant stakeholders, we believe we can ensure these goals and benefits are realised.”

ICOL originally proposed and had been given planning permission to build the substation on part of the Battle of Prestonpans site further inland but submitted a new proposal which was validated two days after the council took ownership of the power station land, saying the planned move followed local consultation.

READ MORE: New substation plan for power station site

The substation, which has been branded a “giant shed” by Prestonpans Community Council, will be controlled remotely and not provide local employment.

Councillor Lachlan Bruce, ward member, said approval of the application would be “totally disastrous”.

Fellow ward councillor Fiona O’Donnell added: “This decision by the Scottish Government is an insult to people in my ward, especially those who have taken part in the consultation about the future of the power station site.

“It has literally taken years of work by the council to secure ownership of the site so that we can ensure the decisions taken about its future are in the best interests of local people.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create jobs and bring benefit to our local economy across the county.

“This land is our land and the Scottish Government need to respect our right to determine the future of the site.”

Prestonpans Community Council reacted angrily to the news, amid concerns it would snuff out other potential investment on the site.

The group has produced a brochure, released today (Thursday), which outlines their case for the site to be used as a port with cruise and ferry potential, which they say would “shrink our areas of social deprivation and give future generations hope of a job in their own community”.

Iain Gray, East Lothian MSP, said he would be asking for an explanation.

He said: “I have spent years arguing that local planning decisions must be taken here 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.

“This is a decision we should be taking here, with local interests put first, and I will be seeking an explanation from ministers why they have taken it out of our hands.”

Councillor Norman Hampshire, depute council leader, said: “It is disappointing that such a key decision has been taken out of the hands of the local authority – particularly as the council now owns the site.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Cockenzie Power Station site is included in the National Planning Framework 3 and this application may raise matters of national importance.

“Calling it in will allow further consideration of the case by ministers before they issue a decision on whether or not planning consent should be granted.”