PROTESTORS marched through the centre of Haddington on Monday evening in opposition to controversial plans for a town ‘transport hub’.

Business owners were joined by residents as traffic on Haddington High Street was reduced to a snail’s pace because of the protest.

Cries of ‘Save our High Street’ and ‘Support our shops’ were made by the 30-strong group as they approached Haddington Town House, where a public exhibition was being held on East Lothian Council proposals which could include a car park of up to 240 spaces at Whittingehame Drive and “bus connections, bike hire opportunities and new pathways”.

If the Whittingehame Drive plans – for a site beside the town’s skate park and all-weather 3G sports pitches – get the go-ahead, the council would then move to “free up parking spaces in the town centre for short-stay use, making it easier for people to access local businesses, essential services and tourist attractions”.

Some traders fear there would be fewer parking spaces on High Street and Market Street.

Existing long-stay car parks such as at Tesco Haddington and the council’s staff car park at John Muir House could be switched to short-stay use only.

Project consultants WYG were joined by representatives from the council at the hour exhibition.

The drop-in event started in the buffet room but it soon became clear that the interest in the proposals far exceeded the space in the room, with display boards hastily moved into the main hall next door.

More than 500 people attended the event, including several representatives of businesses and Haddington Business Community Partnership.

Joanna Gibson, chairwoman of the group, and husband Grant were among those attending.

They said: “My opinion is they don’t know Haddington.

“There was a stakeholders’ meeting earlier on Monday but that should have been done a year ago and involving the community groups, the businesses and the bus companies before going ahead and getting to this stage. Why did it take until now to get people round the table to get views across?”

Pat Lemmon, from the town’s community council, was among those protesting on High Street and at the event.

She told the Courier: “It was a great turnout and it is what happens next that is important.It was obvious from the feeling in the room that a lot of people were very angry and felt they had not been consulted.”

Feedback forms were given to people in attendance at the event, while members of the public can also have their say online.

Mrs Lemmon was keen to find out the results of the feedback and added: “If it is a big ‘no’ to the hub then we want to take it back to the drawing board and everything needs to be put on hold while the council think about what to do next.”

Erica Muirhead, who runs Erica’s on High Street, felt there were other sites, including at Alderston House, which were more suitable for a transport hub.

She said: “I feel that the council need to go back to the drawing board and look at all the suggestions that have come forward from the public, who live, work and use the town centre, and take on board some of the very good comments that were put forward.

“There are very positive things that the council can do, for example sorting out the pavements, putting in additional lighting in the lanes so that the whole town centre is well lit and even assisting with helping tidy up the fronts of shops and buildings that have been allowed to become run down.

“I think last night’s turnout was very good considering it was at fairly short notice and certainly not publicised well by the council.”

Liz McDougall, who lives in the Nungate, was also unhappy with the plans. She said: “I have had people approaching me saying that we cannot allow it to happen and [will] sit down and protest when the diggers come in.”

Display boards in the exhibition outlined the plans for a sustainable travel interchange.

A board stated: “A modern-day hub is designed as an interchange with long-stay parking, encouraging passengers to use more sustainable modes of transport to and from town centres, alleviating congesting, improving safety and the local economy.

“To work most effectively, interchanges are best located on the fringe of the town centre where they can be used to promote sustainable travel.”

It is hoped that the scheme would “release 250 additional short-term parking spaces within the town centre which will be available throughout the day, removing indiscriminate parking and improving access to parking in the vicinity to the main shopping areas”.

Ten sites across Haddington were identified and evaluated against a range of criteria, including the need to function as an interchange and not just a car park.

Consideration was given to the potential number of parking bays, the walking distance from the town centre, if the land was owned by the council, whether it was free from archaeological remains, if anything on the site required demolition, whether it intercepted traffic, on an existing bus route, whether there was access, flood risk, estimated capital land value and estimated capital cost per parking space.

According to the council, that left just two of the 10 sites as deliverable – both on Whittingehame Drive.

A second stakeholder and public consultation is due to take place next month, with a design viability reviewed by the council in February.

A planning application could then be submitted in spring or summer, with construction pencilled in for the summer of next year.

Funding for the scheme is available – currently only until early next year – from the Scottish Government’s town centre fund. A budget of £900,000 has been set for the Whittingehame Drive scheme.

Peter Forsyth, asset and regulatory manager with East Lothian Council, was at the exhibition. He told the Courier a lot of work had gone into the project, which had identified demand was exceeding supply in the town.

He stressed that planning permission did not need to be in place for any project by the end of the financial year. Instead, he said: “We are looking to try to secure a commitment by the end of the financial year. A commitment is that we have a project we can deliver.

“We have to go through planning and that is the ultimate commitment but it is unlikely we will have it by this financial year. We are exploring if we can extend that final date for the commitment.”

Local councillors Craig Hoy and Tom Trotter attended the exhibition.

Mr Hoy said: “It is very clear there is very significant local opposition to the proposed transport and parking hub.

“Haddington needs more parking capacity but serious questions remain about the scale, impact, location, functionality and suitability of Whittinghame Drive for this facility.”

Meanwhile, Mr Trotter was quick to stress that the plans were not a done deal and encouraged anyone interested to make their views known to the council.

He said: “It is very good to see the big turnout – that is what consultation is about.

“I am reassuring people it is not, as a lot of people thought, a done deal. The decision has certainly not been made.”

To submit your views, go to