Planning minister under fire over China power plan

Nicola Sturgeon met with the Chinese firm behind the plans in Beijing last week
Nicola Sturgeon met with the Chinese firm behind the plans in Beijing last week
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A controversial decision to take control of a Chinese backed bid to build a power station was not linked to Nicola Sturgeon's visit to Beijing, Scotland's planning minister has insisted.

But Kevin Stewart faced claims that ministers were putting the interests of a Chinese firm ahead of local people in East Lothian where the development is earmarked for the site of the former Cockenzie power station.

He told MSPs that Ms Sturgeon’s meeting with China’s State Development and Investment Corporation (SDIC), owner of the firm behind the plan, during a trade mission to China last Tuesday was not connected to his move to "call in" the planning application. But his decision relieves East Lothian Council of responsibility for deciding on the renewables substation and means he will now take the decision.

Read more: China under pressure over control of China power plan
The decision came under fire from Labour's Iain Gray at Holyrood.

He said: "In 2016, this project was bought by Red Rock, a company owned by the Chinese State Development and Investment corporation- whom the First Minister was meeting last week at the very moment the planning decision was called in.

"Can the minister understand that it looks to my constituents as if he is prepared to ride roughshod over their interests and aspirations in order to protect the interests and aspirations of a Chinese-backed project which will create not one job in East Lothian.

"If he wants to convince them otherwise will he do that now by returning this decision where it belongs to East Lothian Council?"

Read more: Sturgeon holds "constructive talks" during visit to China
But the links to Ms Sturgeon's visit were dismissed by Mr Stewart.

"I made the decision to call in on April 4 which was related to east Lothian Council on April 9 - before the First Minister was in China.

"We have been absolutely clear that there was no connection whatsoever to the First Minister's visit to China."

He added that consideration of planning issues are focused on the "merits of the case."

He added: "The identity of the applicant is not a planning consideration."

Although planning decisions are often called in if they are deemed to be of national importance, it is highly unusual for such a move to be taken before the local council reaches its own decision on the issue.

SDIC’s subsidiary, Red Rock Power Limited, is the owner of Inch Cape Offshore Limited, which is behind the Scottish application. The firm plans to build 72 turbines up to 300m tall around 15km off the Angus coastline. Electricity from the turbines would be sent to the National Grid via a substation at the East Lothian site. The council had planned to market the site for commercial use in an effort to create jobs after buying the land from ScottishPower last month, but that ambition is now under threat.