SCHOOLS invited by East Lothian Council to help pick the name for East Lothian’s new town are being steered away from the name Blindwells.

East Lothian Council is offering the county’s primary school pupils the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to name a brand new town”.

Thousands of new homes are set to be built on the former Blindwells opencast mine site between Tranent and Longniddry, but it is clear the local authority wants the community to have a new name – a stance which has upset some.

Information packs about the naming consultation process have been sent to schools and the council’s head of development, Douglas Proudfoot, told the Courier at the launch of the naming consultation earlier this month that pupils were “free to choose whatever name their wish”.

At the same launch, Councillor Willie Innes, the council leader, said that Blindwells “may well appear on the [final] shortlist if our young people feel the name should be retained”.

Yet the Courier has learnt that in letters sent out to headteachers, Mr Innes has made it clear that the council wants a “fresh, new name for this new town”.

This has called into question just how much “freedom” pupils really have in the naming process.

And the packs sent out to schools say that “the mine was called Blindwells, but we [the council] don’t think that fits with all the great new facilities that are going to be in the new town”.

Harry Cairney, honorary president of Prestonpans Labour Club and president of Scotmid, worked at the mine from 1978 until its closure in 2000.

He was saddened that the Blindwells name was not deemed worthy of the town in future.

“Blindwells was such a large employer it’s unfortunate that they don’t want to stick with the name,” he said.

“I’d love to know why. Everyone calls it Blindwells and they use the name with affection.

“They’ll probably end up calling it some long, drawn-out name that no one has any connection to, and everyone will keep calling it Blindwells anyway!”

Tranent and Elphinstone Community Council has written to East Lothian Council chief executive Angela Leitch stating that it wants the name Blindwells to appear on the final shortlist of names.

Brian Weddell, Prestonpans Community Council chair, had similar views. He said: “This is an issue that will be raised at the next meeting, but I would be very surprised if the community council didn’t decide to write and request Blindwells be added to the list in the final consultation.

“We don’t want to lose our industrial heritage. Names like Meadowmill, Bankton and Blindwells are important to us. I’m surprised to hear that Willie Innes is pushing this – he’s been a long-standing and supportive councillor in this area.”

Mr Innes told the Courier previously that “in talking to local people there seems to be a strong wish to have a fresh new name for this important new town”.

And when the Courier asked Mr Proudfoot at the launch of the consultation process whether there was a desire for the Blindwells name to be consigned to the history books, he said: “I don’t really know where this is coming from.”

But there is now clarity – this viewpoint is coming from the council itself.

Each primary school is to put forward three possible name choices which would then help form a shortlist for the public to vote on.

The deadline for the schools to submit their suggestions is tomorrow (Friday).

Mr Innes and Mr Proudfoot were not available to speak to the Courier this week.

But Tranent councillor Gordon Mackett said: “I appreciate that this is a rare and exciting opportunity to name a new town; however, I feel that the original name holds a lot of history.

“I personally feel the Blindwells name has great meaning to a lot of local families. It would be a pity to lose part of our local heritage.

“I feel that it is wrong to disregard the name Blindwells due to the amount of local history attached to the name.”

Councillor Lachlan Bruce added: “I think it’s important that the students have as much freedom as they want when thinking about what to call the new town and that should include Blindwells if they want to suggest that.”

Work on building the first homes at Blindwells could get under way at the beginning of next year.

More than 1,500 houses – as well as a school and various community facilities – have the go-ahead, with many more homes expected in the future.