Brunstane campaigners seek legal advice on greenbelt plans

Residents Chris Berry, Frank Richardson, Colin Robb and Lyn Williams protest against prposed development at Brunstane. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Residents Chris Berry, Frank Richardson, Colin Robb and Lyn Williams protest against prposed development at Brunstane. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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CAMPAIGNERS battling plans for more than 1000 houses on greenbelt land are threatening to take the council to court.

The Save Brunstane Greenbelt Campaign (SBGC) said they had taken “initial legal opinion” and had a “very strong case” for challenging development.

The move comes as one legal expert told the Evening News he expected a number of challenges to be lodged against the city’s controversial Local Development Plan (LDP) in the coming months.

The Scottish Government issued its judgement on Edinburgh’s LDP – the city-wide housing blueprint – earlier this week, paving the way for tens of thousands of homes to be built across the Capital.

It predicted a “significant shortfall” in housing over the next five years, and recommended all housing sites identified in the LDP be given the go-ahead.

One such development – dubbed New Brunstane – would see between 950 and 1300 homes constructed over a 48-hectare site known as Brunstane Farmland.

But locals argue the plans threaten the last piece of green belt separating Edinburgh from Musselburgh – and insist the land is “riddled” with near-surface coal seams and old mineshafts.

Chris Berry, of the SBGC, said: “The development of Brunstane Farmlands is most certainly far from a done deal.

“Having taken initial legal opinion, we believe that we have a very strong case for further challenging the development of the green belt at Brunstane, and we have both the determination and means to take the matter to court, should this prove necessary.”

He said legal action would centre on the failure of the council to assess the impact of the mineshafts in its environmental report – something campaigners argue breaches European and Scottish 
legislation.

Campaigners also argue the overarching South-East Scotland Plan (SESplan) “clearly designates” Brunstane Farm as green belt, meaning any development would be “breaking the law”.

Mr Berry said relevant case law – including a similar case from Northern Ireland in 2007 – showed a court finding in their favour could lead to the entire LDP being scrapped.

Murray Shaw, chairman of law firm Gillespie Macandrew, won a successful legal challenge against the now-defunct Strathclyde Regional Council’s Strathclyde Structure Plan in 1993 – one of the last successful cases of its kind.

Speaking to the News, he said such challenges were now rare in Scotland, but insisted the Brunstane campaigners’ case “sounds as if it’s [one] the court would listen to”.

He said residents would need to bring their case within six weeks of the LDP being formally adopted – a move expected in November at the latest.

And he argued it was not “cloud cuckoo” to suggest a court finding in their favour would undermine the entire LDP, but said this was 
unlikely.

In the Scottish Government reporters’ 886-page verdict on the LDP, they admit the council’s environmental report on Brunstane “does not assess 
. . . issues relating to near surface coal reserves and historic shallow mine workings”, but insist this is “a matter for the council”.

As a result of this lack of information, the reporters requested further information from developer EDI, the council and the Coal Authority. All argued for the site to stay in the LDP.

Eric Adair, from the EDI Group, said: “We are aware of the site’s mining history and have carried out extensive assessments to date.

“Any remedial works will be undertaken using proven techniques, and to industry-approved standards. It is our aspiration that, if the masterplan is approved, New Brunstane would introduce a new green and well-designed neighbourhood into the south-east of Edinburgh, delivering homes, green open spaces, public amenities and a new local primary school.”

In its response to the reporters’ request for more information, the council insisted its environmental report was “fully compliant with the relevant statutory requirements”.

A spokeswoman said the SESplan made no “specific reference to Brunstane, nor does it insist that it should remain green belt”. She said it was the role of the LDP “to define the boundaries of the green belt to meet development requirement”.

alistair.grant@jpress.co.uk