A COMMUNITY group has launched a stinging attack on the Scottish Government’s planning process in the wake of a Reporter approved a plan to transform The Quay complex at Fisherrow into a 40-bed private care home.

Musselburgh Area Partnership, which opposed the project, claimed that current procedures merely paid “lip service” to the views of the community, which was “dismayed and disappointed” by the decision.

The group has raised the issue with the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division and a number of MSPs, including the town’s MSP Colin Beattie and the Lothian list MSPs Jeremy Balfour, Miles Briggs, Kezia Dugdale, Neil Findlay, Alison Johnstone, Gordon Lindhurst and Andy Wightman.

The Scottish Government-appointed Reporter upheld an appeal relating to the former leisure complex, restaurant and function suites, which was lodged by Simply Musselburgh Care Limited following East Lothian Council’s refusal of the plans last summer.

The area partnership – along with Musselburgh Conservation Society, Fisherrow Waterfront Group, Fisherrow Harbour and Seafront Association, Musselburgh and Inveresk Community Council and Musselburgh Business Partnership – agreed with the council that, in its harbourside location, the proposed change of use of the building would be detrimental to the regeneration of Fisherrow Harbour.

Iain Clark, area partnership chairman, said on behalf of the area partnership: “Musselburgh Area Partnership was set up by East Lothian Council to aid community empowerment and provide a voice to local people to help shape and deliver positive outcomes in their community, thus delivering key aspects of the Community Empowerment Act – a key piece of Scottish Government legislation.

“It should be noted Musselburgh Area Partnership is a significant community organisation whose members represent over 20 local groups and organisations along with elected members.

“It appears that the current planning process is not designed to take account of community views but is purely based on a series of procedures and conditions which do not take these into account, and merely gives lip service to the views of the community.”

Mr Clark added: “Musselburgh is the gateway to East Lothian and, whilst the development of Fisherrow Harbour and waterfront may be seen as aspirational to the Scottish Government Reporter, it fails completely to take into consideration the whole point that communities do not have at their immediate disposal the key assets, resources and finances to deliver key aspects of the local area plan in short timescales and that it takes a longer period to deliver these.

“The decision makes a number of points/conclusions regarding timescales and no active plans or specific proposals in relation to the development of the Quay complex.

“What this decision fails to consider is that, after the initial planning application was refused, moves were taken forward to examine what viable opportunities were available. However, as soon as the appeal to this decision was submitted, it would surely be obvious that no investment by local community groups in either time or financial commitment would be viable at the stage until the process had been completed.

“Had the appeal been refused in line with the strong views of the community then this would have been driven forward by those in the community who had come together to look at and plan the available options.

“It appears that the Scottish Government’s planning process is not in tune with its own aspirations to provide communities with a greater say – in fact, this a prime example of a failure to listen to communities.

“It does not allow communities to influence and have a real say due to the unrealistic complex planning system and subsequent appeals process with financial and time constraints.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scottish Ministers are committed to seeing the right developments in the right place. This means considering all perspectives as well as the adopted development plan.

“Before reaching a decision, the independent planning reporter fully considered all the evidence submitted by the planning authority, the appellant and all other parties who made representations, including Musselburgh Area Partnership.”

MSP Mr Beattie said: “I am disappointed with the decision made by the Reporter. Since this decision, and others, I have lobbied the Scottish Government asking for changes to be made to the planning system.

“While I have received an initial response, I will be continuing to follow this up with the minister and lobby for a change.”