Ancient woodland saved after visitor centre plans thrown out

Councillors ruled the museum's plans to chop down almost 300 trees breached their Climate Change Strategy.

Ancient woodland saved after visitor centre plans thrown out Getty Images
Woods: Plans for visitor centre thrown out by ministers.

An ancient woodland has been saved after a bid to create a new visitors’ centre for the National Museum of Flight was thrown out by Scottish Ministers.

National Museums of Scotland appealed to the Scottish Government Reporter to overturn East Lothian Council’s refusal to allow the £15m centre to be built after it involved chopping down nearly 300 trees.

Councillors ruled that the museum’s plans – to chop down 299 trees to clear a path so it could move its historic collection of planes from their current outdoor site at East Fortune into a newly built hangar – breached their Climate Change Strategy and threw out the plans at a meeting in February.

Museum bosses insisted that removing the trees was the only way to transport the “fragile” planes.

The planned removal of the trees had led to a public outcry, with an online petition against it gaining more than 3500 signatures.

Ruling on the appeal, the Reporter agreed with an assessment of the strip of woods, known as Sunnyside Strip, which faced the chop and lies between ancient woodlands of Big Wood, as ‘high quality’.

He said: “The assessment describes this area as ‘a woodland of high quality’ and I agree with this description.

“Having visited the site and walked through the woodland, I find the felling of this part of Sunnyside Strip will affect trees of varying species, ages and condition, including recent under-planting.”

The Reporter went on to rule that claims the removal of the woodland was in the public benefit were not enough to overturn policy against chopping down woods.

And while claims the development breached several local plan policies were rejected by the Reporter, he concluded that the impact on the woodlands was too important.

He said: “Drawing my conclusions on the development plan policies together, I find the key determining issue is the felling of part of the ancient woodland.

“It is identified by the local development plan as an irreplaceable asset, therefore any new tree planting proposed is unlikely to fully mitigate for its loss.”

Woodland Trust Scotland, which opposed the removal of the woodlands, welcomed the decision by the Reporter to throw out the appeal.

And it paid tribute to the community campaign to save the strip and neighbouring Big Wood.

A spokesperson said: “Woodland Trust Scotland is delighted that this appeal has been rejected and Big Wood has been saved.

“We would like to pay tribute to the local people who made their voices heard on this issue.”

Reporting by local democracy reporter Marie Sharp