A PUBLIC hearing into plans to build a ‘big shed’ on a site earmarked for employment has been told it could jeopardise hundreds of future jobs in the area.

Inch Cape Offshore Limited (ICOL) wants to bring energy from their offshore windfarm onto land via a substation on the site of the former Cockenzie Power Station.

But the local authority and community councils claim the substation should be sited at a less prominent site, where it could be hidden.

They say putting the substation on the coastal site will hamper their ability to market the surrounding land which has the potential to create more than 3,000 jobs.

The planning application for the substation was called in by Scottish Ministers in March this year – a month after East Lothian Council bought the land from ScottishPower.

Housing and Planning Minister Kevin Stewart was in Cockenzie to open new affordable housing built next to the former power station site, as a public hearing was being held less than a mile away into the ICOL proposal.

He called in the planning application in March this year as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was on a state visit to China where she met representatives from ICOL’s parent company Red Rock.

The Scottish Government appointed Reporter Allison Coard called the hearing so she could hear arguments from both side.

ICOL said it believed that under current Government policy, which safeguards the site for energy use , their proposal was the “ best use” of the land.

However Ray Montgomery, who has been appointed as project manager for the Cockenzie site by the local authority, branded their claim “ridiculous”.

Mr Montgomery, who was head of infrastructure at the council, told the Reporter the land had potential for huge economic development in the area and the coastal location ICOL wanted to use was the “jewel in its crown”.

He told Ms Coard: “I am concerned that if this goes through the scale of the development is not compatible with our efforts to bring forward greater employment on that site.

“It is ridiculous to suggest that a power station which employed 500 people and generated £15million a year being replaced with a substation which will employ seven people is best use of the land.”

A vision for the future of the site was produced on behalf of the council last year after 18 months of consultations with the local communities.

The Cockenzie Masterplan foresees 3,348 jobs being created on the former power station site and surrounding land if it is developed as it proposes.

Ambitious proposals have also been put forward by Prestonpans Community Council for a cruise terminal at the coastal part of the site, while Cockenzie and Port Seton Community Council want a marina developed on it.

ICOL, which was represented by solicitor Robin Hutchison from international law firm Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang, Simon Herriott from Savills, as well as members of the windfarm team, dismissed the proposals put forward by communities for the site as “theoretical”.

They insisted their substation was the ‘only’ project on the table for the site, urging the Reporter not to consider either community council idea.

Mr Hutchison told the Reporter: “The point to take away is that there is no evidence of alternative uses for the site.”

East Lothian Council and the community councils argue that an alternative site on a less prominent part of the site away from the shore would be better.

The local authority argues that “best use of the land” would not be served by building the substation on the coastal site, which is seen as a prime attraction for marketing the enire area to future investors.

ICOL has confirmed the substation, once built, would only require two employees to visit a few times a year for maintenance.

A revised drawing of how it would look on the site which showed the space used reduced sparked anger from community councillor Brian Hickman, representing Cockenzie and Port Seton.

He pointed out it was completely different to a revised drawing shown to his community council last month which promised something “much smaller” when they were told the land needed would be ‘shrunk’ from 10 hectares to 2 hectares.

Mr Hickman told the hearing: “I have lost confidence in this application because, in many respects, I do not think you know what you are doing or trying to achieve.”

Brian Weddell, chairman of Prestonpans Community Council, said the local community needed jobs.

He said: “We do not have a lot of local employment and that is what we need. The Master Plan talks about 3,300 jobs being created. In our view, putting this substation on the foreshore will detract from the possibility to fully develop the site.”

The Reporter will now consider they representations before making a decision on the next stage of her investigation.

Local ward Councillor Lachlan Bruce praised the community council representatives for their presentations to the Reporter.

He added: “I was very disappointed by the applicant’s dismissive views on what has been suggested for by the local communities for the site.

“Lots of ideas have been put forward that would create jobs and opportunities on the site and they should be given all due considerations and not just knocked to the wayside so that they can build their big shed that will create no real employment opportunities for the local area.

“I’m still confident that the Reporter will find that this isn’t the best location of substation at Cockenzie and I can only hope that Scottish Government Ministers will make the best decision for the people of East Lothian which is for rejection of this application, I have my doubts that they will.”