Here are this week's letters:


Troubling considerations abound

We want to express our deep concerns and raise critical questions regarding the recently submitted planning application for the redevelopment of the Herdmanflat Hospital site in Haddington.     

While the proposal highlights several positive aspects – the redevelopment of the existing buildings, for example – there are troubling considerations that necessitate careful examination, particularly concerning community objections to the housing development on the south of the site, the role of Government support in purchasing the site, the perception of a fait accompli in the consultation process, and the conflict between the roles of applicant and planner at East Lothian Council.         

The Herdmanflat Steering Group believes that preserving the south of the site in its current state (or improved) is crucial for maintaining the historical integrity of the green space that contributes to the unique character of Haddington and the local community.                                                                             

At a time when we need to think more and more long-term as we are in a council-declared climate emergency, the Herdmanflat development might meet short-term housing objectives but there is no sense of responsibility for protecting our cultural and heritage sites for generations  to come.           We wish to underscore the need for an exhaustive and transparent examination of the Herdmanflat planning application, with a specific focus on the separation of roles within the council and ensuring that any redevelopment aligns with the long-term interests and wellbeing of the local community, and that the planning process adheres to the principles of fairness and impartiality.                         

With Haddington Central Tenants & Residents Association, we are hosting a meeting on Saturday at the West Church at 10.30am as an opportunity for the community to come together and discuss the application and its impact on the local area.

Susan Forgie
Herdmanflat Steering Group
Friends of Herdmanflat


Asking why

People in North Berwick who have followed the saga of East Lothian Council’s plan to develop new playing fields at the town’s high school at the expense of 142 metres of mature trees and hedgerow often ask themselves why.

Now that this controversial planning application has been approved by the smallest of margins, please can it be explained why, when the council could have adopted a different option that would have complied with local ad national policies on climate and biodiversity, it has been so determined to proceed with this one?

Why, during the months before the application was made public, did the council resist all requests from groups in the town to meet to discuss alternatives that would not have involved destroying the trees and hedgerow?
Why was the council so insistent on pressing ahead with this unpopular and controversial plan, despite the negative publicity that it has attracted and the disillusionment with the democratic process it has caused?

Why did the council refuse to accept a petition initiated by pupils at the school which attracted nearly a thousand signatures, despite the discouraging message this has sent to young people taking their first steps in active citizenship?

Why did the council not follow its own Climate Change Strategy and draft Tree and Woodland Strategy, which states: “Retaining existing, established mature trees, hedges and woodland has multiple benefits across all themes” and “Replacement planting takes many years to perform the same function as established woodland”?

Why did the council fail to observe the mitigation hierarchy, which requires that a development that harms biodiversity should be avoided if possible, knowing there was an alternative available to them?
Why would the council agree unanimously to declare a nature emergency in recognition that “nature is in decline and urgent action must be taken to reverse this” and only seven days later approve this destructive application?

Why was the planning committee advised that the tree belt was “non-native” (a decisive factor in the decision) when 80 per cent of it consists of the native wild cherry and other native species – hawthorn, rowan, guilder rose, ash, pine and alder?

Why was the council officer, acting as applicant at the planning committee meeting, allowed to speak on multiple occasions in contravention of the standing orders that limit applicants and objectors to five minutes only?

Why did the committee chair misrepresent the objectors as being opposed to improved facilities when they had made clear that they supported the idea of new playing fields? 
Where is the democratic leadership, engagement, listening and accountability that we citizens of all ages are entitled to expect?

Why should the people of East Lothian trust the council not to make more decisions like this that may appear to some to be relatively small but add up to significant damage to nature and loss of biodiversity over time? 
Jeremy Gass and Kathy Duncan
Sustaining North Berwick

Parking plans

The 50 Years Ago Peeps into the Past feature in last week’s Courier was notable for its reference to some car parking proposals in North Berwick, in which the statement “the town’s problem was seasonal and for many months the car parks were empty rather than full” appeared.

No change there, then, but the current proposals involve year-round charging – understandable, given that the primary purpose is money-making and income must be maximised to offset the high initial and ongoing cost.

Everyone in North Berwick expects the scheme to be implemented, believing that enough spineless councillors will vote as instructed. 

A more intelligent, or at least independent, consideration would show that the claimed purpose of increasing the turnover of parking places could be achieved at minimal cost to residents and visitors by a simple self-set disc scheme, as used widely elsewhere, for example in Berwick, Dumfries and Stranraer.

Was this considered for North Berwick? Who knows, the grandiose scheme just appeared.
Ian Duff
Rhodes Park
North Berwick

Christmas time

It is that time of year again, the crazy battle between capitalist commercialisation of profit, profit and more profit; and the mythical birth of Jesus.

I wonder how many Conservative people of East Lothian will be celebrating the nativity scene of homeless refugees with a pregnant woman whose partner is not the father, and at the same time condemning the small boat people from war zones in the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

Of course I am an academic social scientist and scientific socialist, and postulate that the man Jesus was a Jewish revolutionary who led a group of followers that opposed the Roman Empire and became more comparable as an icon like Che Guevara.

It took over 300 years for the early Christians to feel the need to venerate the birth of Jesus. In fact, throughout the early period, for Christians birthdays were, even if known, generally ignored. What was regarded as important was the date of death and in particular the date of martyrdom; and Jesus was hung on a cross like every other Jewish rebel and common criminal.

During the Roman Empire, the winter solstice festival was Saturnalia, which celebrated the death and rebirth of the sun. It was a carnival of drink, merrymaking and the exchange of gifts.

The Roman Empire regularly integrated the leaderships of conquered peoples into their own society by seducing them with citizenship and the benefits for the elite of a Roman lifestyle. Alongside this, Rome also integrated the religious belief systems of their conquered subjects into their own.

By the year 274 of the Common Era (CE), the Saturnalia festival had morphed into the officially recognised celebration of Mithras Sol Invictus (the undefeated sun). Many aspects of the legend of Mithras may be familiar: born on December 25 of a virgin; born in a cave; the birth was witnessed by shepherds and magi; raised the dead and healed the sick; had 12 disciples representing the signs of the zodiac; held a last supper with his disciples before returning to heaven at the northern spring equinox – the reason why Easter is after the spring equinox.

In 325CE, the Council of Nicaea was convened to decide the dates of the birth and death of Jesus, as well as how Christianity would be organised ideologically, financially and organisationally. After much discussion and bloodshed, by 337CE December 25 was decided as the Feast of the Nativity. The date was selected because traditionally within the Roman Empire it was already a day of celebration and feasting after the shortest day.

The fusion of the Christian and Mithras myths was all but complete; now don’t let me talk about the big fat man in the red suit.
Happy Holidays!

Jimmy Haddow
Socialist Party Scotland
Carlaverock Avenue