A container terminal is proposed on land that was reclaimed, but never used, for the refitting of Trident submarines at Rosyth. The village of Limekilns in Fife overlooks both the Firth of Forth and the planned site.
Limekilns is located just west of Rosyth and has line-of-sight to the port which is currently an assembly yard for the aircraft carriers and a storage facility for nuclear submarines. The noise impact of any container port development there will be felt strongly by Limekilns. However, the port falls solely into the constituency of Rosyth community council and as such they have more rights in law to be informed of the decision-making process.
Limekilns’ community council (Charlestown, Limekilns and Pattiesmuir) supports in principle development of the site but not as a container terminal. This is because the loading and unloading of container vessels at high-tide will mean significant noise on a 24 hour schedule, alongside a long list of other cogent economic and environmental concerns.
How has the decision-making process on this development included Limekilns residents so far?
The community council have found accessing the information to allow them to participate in the decision-making process very difficult. In January 2010 an EIA scoping report for the new port was published but not sent to them, nor was it made readily available on their request when they eventually heard of its existence in early May. Later in May they did not receive notification of the start of the pre-application consultation. And only after much persuasion did the applicant, Babcock International who own the dockyard, run a public exhibition in Limekilns, three months after they had run their exhibition in Rosyth.
The reason for this appears to be that the legislation (Circular 4/2009) only requires the developer to engage with the community within which the development lies, Rosyth in this case. The picture and map below shows how the lay of the land results in significant impacts on Limekilns despite being different community council constituencies. Babcock appear to have minimised their public engagement at every stage while following the letter of the law on participation.
The ‘rules of the game’ have also changed. After a pre-application consultation the regime under which the decision will be made changed from the land-use planning system to the more enabling Harbours Act 1964, although the development remains under environmental impact assessment legislation. The decision will now be made by Scottish ministers after a public inquiry in November 2011 (but see below for NPF2 implications).
Getting to grips with the new planning system is another challenge faced by the public across Scotland, in this case readily available details of the decision-making process and better information on the pre-application consultation would have created a more open and trusted process. The community council are now faced with an inquiry with new rules on how the scope of what is to be considered is defined and uncertainty over how inquiries operate within the Harbours Act regime.
Overarching all of this is the National Planning Framework 2 where a container terminal at Rosyth is listed as a ‘national development’. Inclusion in the NPF effectively establishes the need for a development in principle and only relatively superficial changes can be made at a later stage. How much were Limekilns involved in the NPF2 development? They were sent a postcard inviting them to make comments, same as all community councils in Scotland but it appears no special effort was made to gather their reaction to a national development on their doorstep. Or even explain that challenging the terminal’s inclusion in the NPF was their only chance to challenge the development in principle.
Local residents, and public participation in general, are faced with two challenges here: 1. the fact the need for the development has been established in the NPF2 (with virtually no local consultation); and, 2. the fact the developer Babcock International have minimised public engagement to the letter of the law, the government’s ‘culture change in planning’ to create a more open and transparent process hasn’t registered. Could the two be linked?