THE Scottish Seabird Centre (SSC) and the people of North Berwick have been urged to work together to make a revised vision of a National Marine Centre a reality.

Following three hours of debate, members of East Lothian Council’s planning committee voted 7-4 on Tuesday to refuse the SSC’s £5.5million application to build a National Marine Centre at its current base at North Berwick harbour.

A majority of councillors on the committee sided with the local authority’s own planning chiefs who had recommended the project be refused.

However, a number of councillors, as well as members of the public, called on all interested parties to work together so that a marine centre acceptable to all parties could still be created.

READ MORE: Marine Centre plans turned down

Speaking after the meeting, Tom Brock, SSC chief executive, said the organisation would look positively to the future, despite their initial plans being turned down.

He said: “It has taken many years to get to this stage and to receive a refusal from the committee is very disappointing.

“However, we have been greatly encouraged by the widespread support for the concept of a National Marine Centre that aims to inform and inspire people about Scotland’s amazing marine wildlife and highlights the need to look after it for future generations.

“We will take on board recommendations and we are reviewing plans to identify the best way forward.

“The current plans feature a new education space to accommodate school and community groups; new outreach and online learning programmes; year-round interactive and changing exhibitions and activities to reduce seasonality; as well as new volunteering, work experience and internship programmes.

“The team had hoped to open the National Marine Centre (a working title) in 2020.

“We remain committed to securing the future of the charity, building on 17 years of experience and success. We will work with partners and the community to move forward positively.

“Our ultimate aim is to create a facility that everyone can be proud of.”

Bill Roberts, secretary of North Berwick Harbour Trust Association (NBHTA), was disappointed that the plans had polarised the community of the town.

He said: “NBHTA’s very first resolution taken at the very first opportunity resulted in unanimous support for the concept of a National Marine Centre (NMC) and its aspirational goals for education, environmental awareness and conservation.

“However, the association’s consultations with its stakeholders revealed an equally unified rejection of these specific building plans largely due to the permanent adverse impact on the physical and visual amenity of the area – a view ultimately endorsed by the community, planning officer and the planning committee.”

Embrace decision Mr Roberts was keen to see the whole community “embrace this decision as a new dawn of opportunity” to create a sustainable future for the Scottish Seabird Centre.

He added: “The positives to emerge from the debate include a plethora of community-generated ideas to deliver a truly sustainable future for an NMC.

“NBHTA would encourage the SSC to abandon these plans and engage with the community today – the conservation of the marine environment deserves it.”

Hilary Smith, chairwoman of the town’s community council, said: “The point of consensus is people want a good thing for North Berwick.

“What we should be focusing on is to build on that consensus.”

Much of the debate on Tuesday focused on whether the economic benefits of the plan outweighed the “harmful” impact on the character of the surrounding area.

Councillors had to weigh up 353 objections, with a further 215 statements of support.

Four Labour councillors – Norman Hampshire, Colin McGinn and Andrew Forrest, as well as Provost John McMillan, council spokesman for tourism and economic development – voted in favour of the plans.

But ward councillor Jeremy Findlay was joined by his Conservative colleagues Brian Small and Lachlan Bruce in voting against, as did Labour’s Fiona O’Donnell and the SNP trio of Stuart Currie, Tom Trotter and Kenny McLeod. Mr Currie was hopeful that refusal would not be the end of discussions.

He added: “If refused, instead of being a dead end, it might just be the WD40 that will see people get together and thrash out something that will be acceptable.”

Representatives of the Seabird Centre spoke about the benefits of the plans, while NBHTA, East Lothian Yacht Club and the community council all stressed their backing for the Seabird Centre but felt the plans were simply not right.

Those in favour stressed the potential economic boosts it could bring to the town but those against, including council planners, stressed the “limited economic benefits” did not justify setting aside the visual impact the development would have on “the historic character and assets of this part of North Berwick”.

The development, which would have seen extensions to the northern, eastern and western sides of the facility, was said to be creating more than 500 full-time equivalent jobs, while annual visitor numbers were predicted to jump by more than 70,000 to 344,000.