A SPACE firm’s bid to ground-test rocket engines on part of the former Cockenzie Power Station site has been rejected by councillors.

Skyrora’s bid to set up a base on where the site’s former coal handling plant stood had caused a division between neighbouring community councils and saw nearly 170 objections lodged with East Lothian Council.

And at a meeting of the local authority’s planning committee last Wednesday, the proposal was rejected against the advice of council officials after planning convenor Councillor Norman Hampshire branded the development a “bad neighbour”.

Mr Hampshire told fellow committee members that he was concerned that allowing Skyrora to test rocket engines on the land, which is central to the council’s future economic plans, could put other investors off.

He said: “This is not a good neighbour  – it is a bad neighbour development and my concern is this may deter potential investors from taking on development at the Cockenzie site.”

Skyrora had lodged an application to create a rocket engine testing site on the land, which is owned by the local authority, with plans to carry out five 30-second tests each month.

But while it applied for temporary use of the site for five years, Skyrora told the planning committee that it envisaged the possibility of not just expanding its presence in the community but potentially bringing a manufacturing facility, described as the size of an Ikea store, to the area.

And while Prestonpans Community Council supported the move as offering potential for jobs and the economy, neighbouring Cockenzie and Port Seton Community Council objected.

At the planning committee meeting last week, Bryan Hickman, chairman of Cockenzie and Port Seton Community Council, recalled a public meeting in the summer which attracted several hundred people.

He said: “Virtually everyone who was there was against it – ranging from our youngest residents to pensioners.

“The feeling, rightly or wrongly, in the community is that they do not want it.”

During the council meeting, residents raised concerns about the storage of key elements of fuel on the site  for days prior to testing, as well as the impact of burning kerosene into the atmosphere.

While Skyrora insisted that the engine tests would be a “clean burn” producing mainly water, resident and biochemist Dr Brian Hall told the committee that he estimated about 420,000 litres of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide could be released during each 30-second test.

Calum Miller, on behalf of Prestonpans Community Council, urged councillors to approve the plans, pointing out that the power station site had lain empty now for six years.

He told them: “The council has the opportunity with this Skyrora application to dispel the myth that we are too remote from Edinburgh to attract business.”

Ward councillors Fiona O’Donnell, Lachlan Bruce and Neil Gilbert did not support the application.

Ms O’Donnell said that the impact on local amenity would be unacceptable and spoke of the “high level of public concern” from constituents about the proximity of the test site to housing – the nearest of which was estimated at 200 metres away.

Councillors rejected the planning application by six votes to two.

The decision was welcomed by Cockenzie and Port Seton Community Council chairman Mr Hickman, who said: “The community is very pleased about the decision as expressed on social media and meeting residents as I go about.

“I felt that we presented a strong case against the application.

“The councillors present gave a fair and balanced summary before coming to their decision. The community thanks the ward councillors who called in the application.

“If this did not go before the committee, it would have been approved by East Lothian Council planning department.”

Brian Weddell, chairman of Prestonpans Community Council, said that he hoped the council would now turn attention to calls for a cruise port at the former power station site, which has been supported by his members. He said: “I am disappointed that local ward councillors went against the advice of their council officers on this planning application.

“Hopefully this will focus East Lothian Council councillors and officials on pushing forward the cruise port initiative to secure much-needed jobs in East Lothian.”

And his community council colleague Mr Miller criticised councillors for failing to listen to their officials.

He said: “It was patently obvious that councillors on the planning committee couldn’t get their heads around the nuances of decibels and emissions.

“They should have fallen back on advice from their own experienced officials. Instead, they repeated the junk science coming from cranks in Cockenzie.

“Each test would have generated the same emissions as a family car running for a year. The councillors who referenced a climate emergency in defence of their decision were only too happy to drive home from Haddington.

“An ecosystem of space technology companies could have emerged in East Lothian based around the testbed.

“The wilful ignorance of a few has pulled opportunity for the hands of young people in East Lothian.”

Derek Harris, from Skyrora, said he was disappointed by the decision of the planning committee.

It is understood the company will take time to consider whether to appeal the decision.

Mr Harris said: “I would like to thank all the staff at East Lothian Council who helped with our application. I am disappointed by the decision but it went through the democratic process.”