Boris Johnson and other UK government officials are monitoring an Edinburgh housing development amid fears that it might harm the health of Scotland’s two giant pandas.
The Foreign Secretary is being kept abreast of plans for the project near Edinburgh Zoo, where the pandas have been on loan from China as a symbol of friendship since 2011.
Scottish ministers have written to Edinburgh City Council reserving the “right to intervene” if town planners grant permission for the 78-home redevelopment of Corstorphine Hospital. Giant pandas have ultrasonic hearing and can pick up noises at very high frequencies.
It means that councillors are obliged to tell the government if they give the green light to the building work, so it can decide whether to “call in” the planning application for a final decision.
It has now emerged that the UK government is also taking a keen interest in the affair, with Scottish Secretary David Mundell writing to the Scottish Government in support of its decision.
In a letter to External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop, Mr Mundell stresses that the pandas “are a reflection of the strength of our relationship with China” and must be protected.
He also points out that the pandas, named Yang Guang and Tian Tian, were a gift from the Chinese government to the UK government and that the planning decision is being closely monitored.
In his letter, published following a Freedom of Information request, Mr Mundell also says he will not intervene “at this stage” as planning matters are a devolved issue.
But he adds: “I have asked my officials to continue monitoring this issue with their counterparts in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and your officials.”
In a sign of the pandas’ importance, Mr Mundell’s letter, dated April 13, was copied to Mr Johnson and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who visited China earlier this month.
The Scottish Government has already told councillors that their decision is of “national importance” due to the possible negative impact on the pandas’ health caused by construction work.
The Corstorphine Hospital redevelopment is being proposed by Sundial Dundas, which wants to convert the listed building into apartments with private car parking and landscaped gardens.
However, concerns about the project were raised by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), with noise studies being carried out close to the pandas’ pen.