As witnessed by the front page of the Courier a couple of weeks back, a local debate on 500 houses planned for Grange Road in North Berwick has resurfaced. This echoes headlines earlier this year about 750 houses at Letham in Haddington or 1,000+ at Blindwells in the West. While I do not wish to prejudge any planning application associated with these, the chances of approval are high because housing development on all three was clearly indicated in the adopted Local Plan of 2008. Protest might be more effective if it were to consider how new residents of any of these could earn a crust.
For that is the tragedy of the last fifty years across East Lothian: a boom in building; an influx of residents, then daily exodus to where the jobs are. Not all effects of this have been negative. Train services have improved, with civic infrastructure—schools, libraries, sports centres, etc—part funded by developers. But the net effect is imbalance. Our towns provide jobs for only a fraction of their residents. Good jobs are in Edinburgh or Livingston; East Lothian’s economic backwater has a per capita GDP below Turkey’s.
When challenged about this, council planners and EDU have shrugged, claiming there was no demand for business land; Spott Road has unwanted space, the Mitsubishi, Mid Road and Ben Sayers factories all stand empty, along with Macmerry offices and units. What an unimaginative counsel of despair from those in charge of our county’s future!
Edinburgh made (and still makes) a bundle on the Gyle. By buying and developing acres of land that would be serviced by the (then) new A720 and two new stations, they took Edinburgh business from RBS to two-man consultancies out of the West End and into the 21st century. We need nothing on that scale. But why aren’t the fields around both Musselburgh and Wallyford stations, with their instant A1/A720 access not part of our plans? Elvingston Science Park at Gladsmuir is another model; why aren’t similar schemes proposed adjacent to Longniddry or Drem (or for that matter, East Fortune and East Linton) stations?
If keeping industrial units at Macmerry filled is all the horizon our ambition can see, it’s time we shook up the smug complacency of our planners, who seem to think that by avoiding prosecution by house developers, they have fully discharged professional duty and earned one of the few professional salaries available within East Lothian.