Controversial plans to chop down 299 ancient trees to move planes have won backing from heritage chiefs
An initial application to build a new £15m visitor centre at the National Museum of Flight was refused planning permission by East Lothian Council.
National Museums of Scotland wants to cut down a 40m swathe so the historic collection of planes at the East Fortune site can be shifted to a new hangar.
Three planes need to be brought indoors to protect them, museum bosses argue, while the museum’s Concorde would also be transported from its current hangar.
However, thousands of people signed an online petition demanding the mature trees are saved and councillors threw out the plans in February.
The museum appealed the local authority’s decision and has now received the backing of Historic Environment Scotland (HES), the public body tasked with protecting Scotland’s heritage.
Protesters had told councillors alternative sites for the new centre, which would avoid destroying the tree belt, had not been given proper consideration.
They pointed to an area to the west of the original site and proposed new land on the neighbouring Gilmerton Estate as a better location.
And East Lothian Council submitted a response to the museum’s appeal which said it would be willing to consider a new site to the west of the airfield.
It read: “East Lothian Council is not opposed to the proposal of a new hangar; however, East Lothian Council is opposed to the proposed location.”
But HES, which has responsibility for the airfield where the original museum is built said it would probably object to the centre being placed on the western spot.
In a statement lodged with the appeal, HES said it had been in discussions with museum bosses for close to 15 years over the new visitor centre and backed their initial proposals.
Back in 2006, HES said: “One alternative option on the west side of the scheduled monument was noted as being potentially problematic.
“If presented with a similar options appraisal today, we would likely provide similar advice, that being that the construction of a large visitor facility near the end of one of the runways would likely impact on key views along that runway.”
HES said that view had not changed and remained advice it would give applicants.
Regarding the aid of the impact of 299 trees being destroyed, HES said: “We would not consider the trees of Sunnyside Strip to be directly related to the cultural significance of the scheduled monument – they are visible but do not relate to our understanding of the monument as a wartime airfield.”
Museum bosses have said that the new visitor centre will generate £7.3m and support 392 jobs in East Lothian – an increase on 2016/17 when it generated £6.5m and supported 344 jobs.
More than 200 objections to the appeal have been lodged with the Scottish Reporter.
Story by local democracy reporter Marie Sharp