A PLAN to demolish the Ship Inn in Musselburgh and replace it with a new pub, seafood restaurant and 15 flats is being opposed by local conservation watchdogs.

Musselburgh Conservation Society has lodged an objection with East Lothian Council, claiming that the development would have “a serious detrimental impact” on the character of a “key entry point” into Musselburgh.

It highlighted the loss of the “historic and visually important” Ship Inn and the creation of a building “out of scale” with the low-rise development on the south side of North High Street and on Market Street.

The society wants to see the core frontage building retained in any development of the larger site in order to preserve the character of that part of the town.

Owner Caledonian Heritable is seeking planning permission to redevelop the well-known hostelry on North High Street to create a “great, new landmark” for the town which aims to celebrate local culture and harbour heritage.

The “expanded” Ship Inn would have 15 two-bedroom apartments above, plus a bicycle and bin store in a tenement-style building of brick and zinc with three gables.

The development was described by the company’s architects as “a huge vote of confidence” in Musselburgh.

But Alan Stevens, on behalf of Musselburgh Conservation Society, said: “There is some concern in the community over the potential demolition of the Ship Inn.

“The building is an important and historic one in the townscape of Musselburgh, forming a key and familiar backdrop to the entry to the town from Edinburgh Road.

“The issue here is that there appears to be no protection in national or local planning policy for buildings like the Ship Inn which are of some importance locally. It is not listed and it is not within a conservation area.

“The society takes the view that protecting townscape and character should be paramount in determining this application and we would add that the cumulative impact on local character of this proposal when added to the proposed drive-through coffee shop [at the petrol station] across the road must also be considered.”

Alastair Knowles, Chairman of the Old Musselburgh Club, said a number of club members had “expressed reservations” about the plan.

He added: “The overarching concern is the loss of the iconic, historical frontage of the present building which, for generations, has heralded the entrance to Musselburgh and is one of the signature buildings which identify the town as it is traversed from The Ship to Mrs Forman’s.”

And he claimed: “Far from ‘balancing the streetscape,’ the four-storey tenement configuration is alien to the south side of North High Street which, for most of its length, is predominantly two or three-storey, and exclusively two storeys from Lochend Road South to the Ship Inn.”

Speaking at a recent meeting of Musselburgh & Inveresk Community Council, chairwoman Irene Tait said: “It’s an icon in Musselburgh, there’s no doubt about it.

“Although we have got high buildings, they are on the other side of the road.

“We are not saying don’t build it at all but they could try and encompass what we have got into the frontage.”

‘Busy and vibrant’

A spokesman for architects Oberlanders said: “We’d urge everyone who loves Musselburgh to read the ‘Musselburgh Town Centre Strategy’. This is a key policy document that looks at ways to keep Musselburgh town centre busy and vibrant, taking actions to promote additional business.

“The Musselburgh Town Centre Strategy specifically highlights that the licensing trade sector has seen a significant number of pubs close in Musselburgh town centre and forecasters predict further decline in the sector.

“The proposed development is a huge vote of confidence in Musselburgh, from a local, independently owned business with generations of local knowledge.

“It offers a vital opportunity to swim against the inevitable tide and avoid the ‘empty and boarded-up’ premises highlighted in the Town Centre Strategy document.

“Our proposals preserve and enhance the essential and welcoming character of a public house at this key entrance point into the town, with a visually important development of architectural quality, heralding the entrance to Musselburgh as a vibrant town centre, lively and open for business.

“The positive essential character isn’t created by the existing building, which isn’t listed or noted as having architectural quality. The essential character has been created by decades of effort and pride from the building’s owners, and this development enhances and secures that very character.”