A fresh bid to build a £15m visitors’ centre at the Museum of Flight has been launched despite anger over the need to chop down nearly 300 trees.
National Museums of Scotland has appealed to Scottish ministers to overturn East Lothian Council’s decision to refuse planning permission for the new building.
Councillors ruled 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.
Now museum bosses have appealed the decision insisting removing the trees is the only way to transport the “fragile” planes.
In their appeal they say: “Tree removal is required to allow the decanting of large fixed-wing aircraft to the new building from their current locations.”
Museum chiefs told East Lothian Council’s planning committee the proposed site for the new 18-metre-high hangar was the only acceptable place and had been chosen after long negotiations with Historic Environment Scotland.
The plans for the ‘Ready for Take Off’ project would have seen a new visitors’ centre created under a giant hangar which would house two historic planes which are currently kept outdoors at the museum site at East Fortune, as well as Concorde.
The hangar in which Concorde currently sits would then be used to bring a further plane indoors.
Museum chiefs said the condition of the planes, one of which has been outdoors for nearly 40 years, is deteriorating and without bringing them indoors they could end up being scrapped.
They include a Comet which they said was one of only six left in the world.
The new centre would also be used to relocate the public entrance to the museum, car parking, a shop and cafe from the original site, which is a Scheduled Monument and cannot be built on.
The proposed site is on the Gilmerton estate, south of the current museum, was the museum said the only viable one, however at he planning committee in February councillors questioned whether a field to the west of the Scheduled Monument had also been looked into by them.
The planned removal of the trees had led to a public outcry, with an online petition against it gaining more than 3500 signatures.
The Woodland Trust told the council that replanting trees would not replace some of the ancient woodland which it said would be lost if the plans were given the go ahead.
And Councillor Norman Hampshire, planning convenor, pointed out that East Lothian councillors had declared a climate emergency last year.
The committee was told it was likely the new trees would take 15 years before they equalled the positive impact the felled woodland had on the county’s carbon footprint.
Fellow committee member Councillor Fiona O’Donnell said: “When this council took a decision about climate change we used the word ’emergency’, not down the line, so we can’t lose 15 years.
“I think the loss is not a price worth paying.”
Despite a recommendation to approve the plans by the council’s officers the committee voted in the majority to refuse the application because the loss of 299 trees was “to the detriment of the climate of East Lothian”.
In appealing against the decision museum bosses said: “The NMF has been open to the public since 1975 and is one of the most popular tourist and leisure attractions in East Lothian.
“The development responds to the operational requirement for a new building to conserve and exhibit Scotland’s national aviation collection and to prevent further deterioration of important elements of this collection.”
Story by local democracy reporter Marie Sharp