IN WHAT was described as a “watershed” moment, East Lothian councillors voted to put tackling climate change ahead of conservation.

Councillors gave the go-ahead for 11 solar panels to be placed on the roof of a new hostel which is to be developed in Dunbar town centre, despite planning officers ruling it breached the council’s conservation area rules.

The hostel, which is being developed at the former Dolphin Inn and Hotel, on the town’s Queens Road, is the brainchild of environmentalist Jo Waddell, who wants to create a boutique hostel for young people and active tourists.

However, planning officers recommended that while The Dolphin Inn (Dunbar) Ltd’s hostel plan was given the go-ahead, the solar panels on its roof should be rejected.

They warned councillors the “shiny, reflective finish” of the panels would be harmful to the character and appearance of the building.

And they said allowing the panels would set a precedent for the town’s conservation area.

Ms Waddell told councillors at a planning committee meeting in that she was trying to protect the old building, urging them to think of Dunbar’s most famous son, naturalist John Muir, and what he would have thought of how things were today.

She asked: “What would he say to us putting shiny over common sense?”

Alasdair Swan, speaking on behalf of Dunbar Community Council, said ‘Sunny Dunny’, as the town is affectionately known because of its high number of sunshine hours, would welcome the solar panels.

He said: “We’d like to record our extreme gratitude to Jo for her investment in the Dolphin.

“We have this balance between a policy to preserve a conservation area just as it is and a policy where the council has to do something about climate change.

“This is an issue that needs to be resolved sooner rather than later.

“We are comfortable with the realisation that this could set a precedent.”

Councillor Norman Hampshire, planning convenor and local ward member, who led the successful motion by the council to declare a climate emergency at a meeting in August, said members had to choose between investment in sustainable energy and conservation.

He told fellow councillors: “We have agreed there is a climate emergency and we need to take action to do what we can to reduce our carbon footprint in East Lothian.

“If we refuse this it means the climate emergency declarations will be a complete joke.”

Councillor Sue Kempson, fellow ward member for Dunbar and East Linton, also supported the solar panels.

She said: “The new owners have the energy and enthusiasm to commit to a much-needed facility for Dunbar.”

Councillors unanimously agreed to amend the planning officers’ recommendation and allow the solar panels as part of the approval for the hostel.

Councillor Neil Gilbert told the committee: “Hopefully we can look back on this day as a watershed.”