Recently I had the opportunity to welcome campaigners to Holyrood to hand in a petition of protest over the potential eviction of a tenant farmer from his family’s home of 100 years. Jim Telfer, 82, is fighting to protect Old Pentland Farm near Straiton, as landowners aim to sell to the developers behind a proposed film studio. The Scottish Government has a decision on its hands, after Midlothian Council failed to make a ruling on the application.
In addition to lack of meaningful consultation on the proposals in their current form, members of the community are alarmed that proposals for development on Edinburgh’s green belt include a gas-fired power station, with several tall chimneys set to run day and night, generating traffic, noise, light and air pollution.
Locals are also keen to prevent destruction of wildlife habitat, and the significance of such a loss of greenbelt in terms of food production and security cannot be understated, with some of the last remaining good agricultural and food production land on the edge of the city under threat.
Issues of food security and greenbelt protection remain national priorities in need of addressing, and this site of quality farmland should be protected. Scotland needs a film studio, but Scotland also needs to preserve its agricultural land, biodiversity, human rights, and to put respect for local democracy at the heart of the planning system. .
In Damhead and Old Pentland, like so many other communities, dedicated local campaigners are doing incredible work to raise awareness and galvanise support. Green MSPs will continue to do our utmost to press Scottish ministers to heed the strength of local feeling on this issue, while across Scotland we will also be working to strengthen local democracy, through empowering communities to have their voices heard in the planning process.
This inappropriate proposal is placing an unacceptable level of stress on Jim, his family and the wider community. I have long supported equal rights of appeal in the planning system, whereby community groups are afforded the same rights as developers. Such a system works well in other European countries, and ahead of the 2016 elections I identified this radical change as a key issue I wanted the opportunity to press for action on in the new session of Parliament.
I support the local community, and as part of a now larger Green group, both in Holyrood and in Lothian itself, I can assure residents that the Green MSPs will do our utmost to democratise the core public service that is planning, for the good of our communities and the health of Scotland as a whole.
Alison Johnstone is a Green MSP for Lothian