COMMUNITY councillors have vowed to back businesses and residents against any detrimental changes to Haddington town centre.

Proposals were revealed by the Courier last month that would see a complete revamp of Haddington town centre.

Dozens of spaces could be removed from High Street and Market Street, with the introduction of cycle lanes, wider footpaths and a communal space on High Street.

The proposals have been met with concern by businesses in the town centre, who fear that the removal of up to 40 spaces – and the introduction of a car park of more than 200 spaces on Whittingehame Drive – could have a negative impact on their way of life.

Haddington and District Community Council heard from both Haddington Business Community Partnership (HBCP) and residents last Tuesday before asking non-community councillors, including the Courier, to leave to discuss the proposals in private.

Now, a sub-group – made up of community councillors Jan Wilson (chairwoman), Fiona McEwan (secretary), Paul Darling (planning liaison officer), Pat Lemmon and Jack Worden – is to meet to draft a letter to East Lothian Council outlining concerns and any positives regarding the scheme.

Mrs Lemmon said: “All community councillors managed to finally see the draft plan that has already been submitted to Sustrans.

“There are some positives but there are also negatives.

“So the community council has formed a sub-group, which is meeting on Tuesday to draft a letter to East Lothian Council. It is felt at the moment that the draft in its entirety is not acceptable until this letter is lodged and any concerns we have are taken on board.

“Not everybody understood everything that was involved in the draft plan but time was needed to make sure not only all the community councillors were more familiar with the draft plan but we had heard from HBCP and Haddington residents.

“It was felt in the past that at community council meetings not enough time had been dedicated to it, hence the reason why Tuesday night happened.”

When the controversial proposals were revealed, the local authority confirmed it was “exploring additional options for sustainable travel improvements in and around Haddington town centre”.

The new ‘edge of centre’ car park, dubbed a park and stride or a park and ride, would encourage people to walk or be bussed from Whittingehame Drive back into the town centre.

No location has been confirmed for any new car park, although there have been concerns raised as to how it would impact upon community events such as Nungate Gala and the town’s fireworks.

The long-stay car park at the town’s Tesco store, which is used by many people working in the town centre, could also become a short-stay car park.

Joanna Gibson, HBCP chairwoman, outlined the group’s feelings about the proposed scheme before non-community councillors were asked to leave the meeting – a decision that, according to East Lothian Council, was entirely down to the community council.

A number of businesses feared they would not be able to operate through a lengthy construction period. There were also worries that businesses would be forced to close and, with none moving in, it would result in a poorer High Street.

Mrs Gibson said: “We do not think that this design has enough merit to counter the huge disruption of even phase one of the plan.

“There were at least three plans at the initial consultations, why were none of the others considered? Perhaps within these plans we might have found a non-disruptive way to actually improve the town centre.

“The shared space for events we believe will rarely be used as there does not seem to be any motivation or intentions, to our knowledge, to appoint someone to manage this.

“We already have excellent event space outside the Corn Exchange offering indoor and outdoor event space and at Whittingehame Drive, and round the River Tyne where very successful community events are held.

“We believe that parking is an important factor in retaining business if we are to compete with the [proposed] new retail park [at Gateside] and survive and prosper.

“This has also been the conclusion of many high street and town centre survival papers and studies worldwide.”

A council spokesman said: “We are continuing to develop proposals to improve the attractiveness, functionality and accessibility of the town in support of the community and local businesses. This includes improved pedestrian and cycle access, as well as exploring additional options for sustainable travel improvements in and around Haddington town centre.

“Our priorities are to protect and enhance the local environment while supporting the local economy. Engagement with local groups, which has been an important part of the council’s support in delivering the ‘Vision for Haddington Town Centre’, is ongoing and we look forward to setting out more details in the months ahead.”