CALLS for the Scottish Government to explain its decision to call in controversial plans for an electricity substation on part of the former Cockenzie Power Station site were rejected at Holyrood last week, as it was claimed the SNP were “all over the place” on the future of the key economic site.

Iain Gray (Lab), East Lothian MSP, called on ministers to make a statement on the decision to call in the plan by Inch Cape Offshore Ltd, owned by Chinese state company Red Rock, in the same week First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was making a visit to China.

The move effectively takes the decision over the future of the site, which East Lothian Council purchased just last month, away from local councillors and into the hands of ministers.

Scottish Ministers said the move was made because the site is potentially of “national importance” and was identified on the national planning framework for renewable energy use – the substation would bring energy ashore from a planned offshore wind farm off the Angus coast.

However, the decision appeared to contradict the SNP’s own transport and energy spokesman at Westminster Alan Brown MP, who just 12 days earlier had told the Westminster Energy Environment and Transport Forum about his vision for the site, which he said had been suggested as a “new gateway port at Cockenzie”, adding it would offer a “strategic high-frequency, high-capacity motorway with connection to the EU markets”.

A port at Cockenzie is a concept backed by some in the community, including Prestonpans Community Council, which has launched a new website and brochure to drum up support for the idea of a cruise terminal at the site.

Mr Brown’s comments were held up as further evidence decisions over the future of the site should be taken locally by Mr Gray.

He said: “The SNP are all over the place with regard to Cockenzie.

“Their transport spokesman in Westminster appears to be supporting the development of a port, while his colleague in Holyrood has just called in the substation planning application on ‘strategic energy’ grounds although it would potentially jeopardise that port development.

“The SNP have form on this too. They have already tried to impose a massive unwanted energy park proposal for the site on our local communities.”

Mr Gray raised the decision to call in the Inch Cape plans with the Scottish Government planning minister Kevin Stewart MSP, after ministers refused to make a statement on the decision.

In a move which further muddied the waters, the Scottish Government told the Courier a speedy decision was likely on Inch Cape to meet “UK Government subsidy deadlines”, suggesting its approval would be needed for wind farm funding.

A spokesperson said: “The application is time critical as it relates to possible UK Government subsidies if planning permission is given.

“Calling in the application gives a greater chance of a timely decision ahead of the funding deadline. It does not pre-determine the outcome of the planning process.”

Mr Gray said that statement, backed by Mr Stewart’s response in Parliament, suggested a decision on the site had already been made.

He said: “The SNP Government clearly feel they are entitled to remove this decision from being made locally without even having the respect to explain themselves.

“I managed to get a ‘topical question’ to the planning minister. I believe his response demonstrated no knowledge at all of the local issues, the consequences of the application or the history of the power station site.

“Worst of all, when he says that Inch Cape must have all permissions in place by a deadline to apply for Government subsidy, he seems to pretty well signal an intention to rubber-stamp the application.”

And he again questioned the timing of the First Minister’s China visit to the decision, which the minister insisted was not connected.

Mr Gray said: “The minister claimed this is nothing to do with him calling in this decision so he can take it himself, but questions about the timing of the decision remain.

“I still believe that if he wants to prove it has not influenced his decision, all he has to do is return the right to decide to our local elected councillors.”

South of Scotland MSP Michelle Ballantyne (Con) is also calling for answers from the Scottish Government.

She said: “The recent developments have raised troubling questions about how the Scottish Government are handling this situation, with many of my constituents feeling that the Government are placing the interests of a Chinese company ahead of local priorities.

“I can see many reasons to agree with local stakeholders as their proposals promise jobs, tourism, infrastructure and prosperity. Red Rock’s application will bring little to the area other than an eyesore.”

SNP councillors in East Lothian said they were disappointed by the decision by Scottish Ministers.

Councillor Stuart Currie, SNP Group Leader, said: “We believe that this decision was premature given the high level of engagement already taking place with the applicants and East Lothian Council on the location of the substation.

“These discussions should have been given the opportunity to conclude and the planning committee make a decision which then, if desired, could have been called in.”

Martin Whitfield (Lab), East Lothian MP, said: “[Alan] Brown’s comments appear to have been made without any discussion with either the communities affected or his own colleagues at Holyrood, who have just called in the substation planning application.

“We have reached a critical stage on the future of the Cockenzie site.

“East Lothian Council has done what the community wanted and secured the ownership of the site. Now they should be left to get on with making decisions on its future in partnership with the local communities involved. Interference from the SNP needs to stop.”