Non! French whisky distiller told it cannot expand Bathgate site
Plans by a major French whisky distiller to expand their operation in West Lothian by opening 21 new maturation warehouses have been turned down over fears about the spread of a ‘polluting’ black fungus.
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The Glen Turner distillery wanted to develop an 11 acre field next to its existing distillery at Starlaw near Bathgate.
Glen Turner is part of the French firm La Martiniquaise which blends Label 5, one of France’s biggest selling whiskies. It described the plan as “a logical and sustainable development.”
Planning officials had also backed the proposed expansion – but councillors voted to refuse the application after local residents voiced fears about the spread of a black fungus commonly found near distilleries.
The Scotch Whisky Association “confirmed independent research has found complex combinations of naturally occurring microflora within environmental blackening at locations across the UK.”
And while the fungus – Baudoinia compniacensis – has no known side-effects the distillery regularly scrubs down its buildings.
Glen Turner said it would consider widening a proposed clean-up zone to include surrounding communities, if there was evidence that the fungus spread – leading one councillor to ask whether it was possible to steam-clean trees.
While only three jobs would be created initially, with the plan creating at most 15 employment opportunities in the local area, planners were in favour of the proposals.
A report said: “There is a strong business/economic case for the expansion… of the operation. The proposal will create high value jobs and will reduce wider carbon emissions of locating such facilities elsewhere.”
While the angels’ share – the whisky lost in evaporation from casks as it matures – would have been given a generous top-up however, the earthly concerns of the fungus and lost green space that had councillors saying “No thanks”.
The plan was met with 48 objections, including from surrounding community councils; Seafield, Bathgate and Eliburn. They pointed out that it snubbed the Local Development Plan and greenbelt protection.
The fungus exercised objectors and councillors.
Seafield Community Council said: “ It is clear from a stroll along the cycle path near Seafield and the current site that vegetation in the area is affected by this, but nowhere else in the area.”
Stephen Egan from Eliburn Community Council in Livingston also criticised scant mention of the fungus, asking: “What safeguards will there be for the houses likely to be blighted by this? There needs to be specific environmental reviews to report on this issue.”
Objectors were also upset about the disruption to the cycle path running through the site. It would have be closed for short periods to allow the transfer of whisky between the two areas of the distillery.
Councillor Willie Boyle, SNP, was critical of suggestions that wildlife would be unaffected, adding: “I am really concerned about the impact on the wildlife corridor.”
Referring to the fungus he said: “ This is something that the whole industry has been very relaxed on. Go to any of these big maturation warehouses, it’s on fence posts, it’s on lamp-posts. We have all this technology at our fingertips yet we sit back and accept this. I think it’s appalling.”
He also asked: “How do you steam clean trees?”
Council leader, Lawrence Fitzpatrick, Lab, said the plans had been “poorly thought through”.
He added: “ I am really concerned about the number of houses that could be affected – potentially hundreds. There is no solid understanding by the developers as to the genuine concerns of the communities.”
Eliburn councillor Alison Adamson, Con, said: “Currently Glen Turner distils 25 million litres of whisky with only two maturation warehouses. We can only assume a massive increase in the issues being raised.”
“There’s going to be a lot more of this angels’ share going around, and I’m not satisfied we have been given any peace of mind.”
Seafield councillor Kirsteen Sullivan, Lab, said: “There are many ifs and buts. I hear very little certainty in terms of protection for the environment and the villagers.
“We can’t turn back the clock. Never before has the outdoors been more important. We can’t just give away precious things without due consideration.”
Fellow ward councillor Bruce Fairbairn, Con, supported the plans, saying the economic development would be good for West Lothian. He proposed backing the plans.
A majority voted for Councillor Boyle’s motion, rejecting the plan by 11 to 3.