ALTHOUGH coherent planning vision for our county has yet to emerge, East Lothian Investments (ELI) and East Lothian Land (ELL) are accommodating local businesses as best they can.

This reduces commuting elsewhere – and this year’s surge in people moving out from Edinburgh – through:

  • ELI interest-free loans of £25,000 and £9,000;
  • ELI Business Interruption Loan fund to cover short-term cash flow from Covid-19;
  • ELI loan fund still offering loans of up to £15,000;
  • ELC business development grants of £5,300 and £4,000 (prior to 2018);
  • ELC staff assistance to secure business rate grants;
  • Free ERDF (European Regional Development Fund – now ended) consultancy on website development, social media and energy efficiency.

This has boosted local jobs, such as at Drem Airfield, where existing businesses like Monaghan Mushrooms, David Morin Builders and Andrew Black Haulage have been augmented by: Certas Energy (heating oil distribution); Clock House (furniture); Agrii (agronomists); and Frontier (crop protection/spraying).

Welcome though such additions are, these are industrial units, as at Macmerry. For professionals – especially those now working from home – local office space remains at a premium, despite refurbishment of ELC’s Block B at Brewery Park by ELL in 2018. Occupancy there is 85 per cent. Other council buildings may follow suit, as many ELC staff now work from home.

ELL is looking for other commercial developments, having recently made an unsuccessful bid for the former RBS on Westgate, North Berwick, and land at Crookston School, Wallyford.

Meantime, ELL is developing seven 1,000 sq.ft. commercial units in Haddington at Tyne Close, due for completion in 2021. With pressure from house developers, the squeeze on land for offices is severe.

However, there are three strategic opportunities to provide real commercial hubs to attract a major employer and provide local professionals with offices: two are at Blindwells and the other beside Queen Margaret University, where houses offer a chance to co-locate jobs for residents.

But a major opportunity of national importance is at Cockenzie. The site being ELC-owned makes a visionary purpose, like a cruise/ferry terminal, possible. Anything on that scale should catalyse shoreline retail and hospitality/tourism hub, plus commercial space on a grand scale.

Such a co-ordinated development would embed hundreds of jobs at all levels to spur our economy, while cutting commuting – all for the price of investment in a brownfield site. To smother it with still more housing would be to sell out our future.