THE decision by East Lothian Council to again change public consultation arrangements regarding controversial plans for a transport hub in Haddington has been branded “divisive” and “shambolic”.

Protests are expected to take place outside Haddington Town House on Monday evening when the proposals are put to the public.

And angry business owners are also planning to place banners outside the town’s General Election polling station at the Aubigny Centre today (Thursday).

In recent weeks, East Lothian Council has repeatedly changed plans for a public consultation on a controversial proposal for a new car park east of the town centre. One business owner accused the local authority of trying to divide and confuse people so they did not attend.

It comes after the council:

  • Unveiled a Proposal of Application Notice (PAN) for a 240-space car park at Whittingehame Drive, with a public consultation planned for this Monday, 1pm to 7pm, at Haddington Town House;
  • Withdrew the PAN to allow further public consultation on all options available;
  • Announced Monday’s consultation would go ahead as scheduled but would look at alternative options and wider parking issues in the town;
  • Reduced the length of the public consultation to just one hour – 6-7pm – with an invitation-only stakeholders’ meeting earlier in the day which the public could not attend;
  • Then this week changed the time of the public consultation event again, saying it would now be held between 5pm and 8.30pm at the Town House on Monday, not 6-7pm.

Haddington Business Community Partnership had asked the council to postpone the public consultation until the start of the new year because it believes the local authority has breached Scottish Government guidelines stating that consultation exercises should not be launched during local or national election periods.

A spokesperson for the council has denied this is the case and insisted it is a normal part of pre-consultation process.

Community councillor Pat Lemmon said the decisions of the council were disappointing.

She said: “It does not encourage feelings of trust for everyone working together. The ground rules change by the day.”

And she said the council’s handling of the proposals had caused major distrust among residents, particularly when it came to the independently produced Haddington Vision document officials use to support their case.

She said: “The Haddington Vision strongly said any changes had to be looked at by all the stakeholders, by everyone concerned, to avoid any ill feeling, to make everyone feel they had been consulted as part of proposed plans.

“The statement made that East Lothian Council hopes to be in a position to implement a decision by March 2020 indicates to me that there appears to be a race on to secure funding for the transportation hub.

“If this is the case, is this the right decision given the strong views for and against any proposed hub in the town and the proposed town centre plans currently being discussed by the steering group?”

“To have such a meeting so close to Christmas, and the stakeholder consultation at a time when many people are working, seems to me to be a bad decision.

“I am very disappointed that such a decision has been made.”

A spokeswoman for East Lothian Council previously confirmed that the drop-in event would run 1-7pm, with a public notice in the Courier of November 28 confirming that was the case.

The event was to give local residents and businesses “the opportunity to discover more about the proposals for a transport hub in Haddington”.

She said: “They will also be able to see the progress and history of the project to date, including the consideration of 10 different sites across the town.

“Comments can be recorded as part of this consultation which will help inform the future development of the proposal and will be followed by another consultation in the New Year.”

However, the public section of the event has been reduced to just 60 minutes.

When asked why the format of the event had been changed, the spokeswoman said: “Due to a combination of level of interest and availability of staff, a stakeholders meeting will be held at 2pm and invitees include local business owners, schools, community council, sports clubs, transport companies and accessibility and active travel interests. [The] public event will start at 6pm.”

Other sites considered for the car park and dropped for “various reasons” include the field between West Road, Park Lane, Pencaitland Road and Letham Drive, and the site of the former Haddington Nursery School Annexe, off Meadowpark, which has also been earmarked for a housing development.

The plans for Whittingehame Drive, which were drawn up following a series of closed door meetings, came under fire from a number of Haddington residents.

Concerns ranged from the loss of green space on the site, which is beside the town’s skate park and 3G sports pitches, to the potential for accidents with youngsters playing next to the car park.

The transport hub, which would include a car park with somewhere between 180 and 240 spaces, could also include “bus connections, bike hire opportunities and new pathways”.

According to East Lothian Council, the facility, if approved, has “the potential to free up parking spaces in the town for short-stay use, making it easier for people to access local businesses, essential services and tourist attractions”.

However, business owners were among those raising concerns about the proposals.

George James, who runs the East Lothian TV and Video Repair Centre on High Street, felt that the last-minute changes were an attempt by the council to divide people.

He said: “It is clearly divisive and an effort to stop people attending the public consultations.

“We are a local business and have been told we cannot attend the stakeholders’ meeting as we are not considered stakeholders.

“We are encouraging as many people as possible to join a protest at the Town House on Monday evening; we are determined to ensure they do not get away with this approach, which appears shambolic.”

Karla Green from the shop is handing out leaflets advising people about the public meeting but the times have changed so much even her leaflets are now out of date.

She said: “They still have 6pm on them so we have to tell everyone that the time has changed – again.”

Project consultants WYG will be in attendance on Monday and will have a number of display boards showing the extent of proposals.

Council transport officers will also be in the Town House and people will have the opportunity to ask questions.

A council spokesperson said: “The public ‘drop-in’ part is now 5-8.30pm and it has been extended due to securing availability of key members of the project team being available to answer public questions.

“Invitations to the stakeholders’ meeting are for two representatives from a range of organisations involved in business/transport in Haddington and confirmed invitees include Haddington Business Community Partnership, Haddington Community Development Trust, East Coast Buses, Prentice Coaches, Lothian Buses.”