An update on the future of the former Cockenzie Power Station has been provided to East Lothian Councillors.
The site was acquired the council in 2018 to support ambitions to promote economic growth and create employment opportunities.
Significant technical work has been taking place to fully understand and plan for the necessary infrastructure and environmental, economic and sustainability work needed to support the site’s development.
National Planning Framework
The previous National Planning Framework (NPF) 3 identified the site as of strategic national significance for thermal energy generation and carbon capture and storage. The draft NPF4, published earlier this year, identifies the site for economic development – giving more flexibility for future use. Finalisation of NPF4 will enable the council to move forward with plans.
In 2019, Scottish Ministers granted planning permission in principle for an onshore substation, electricity cables and associated infrastructure to Inch Cape Offshore Ltd on part of the site. In August 2021, the council's Planning Committee unanimously approved outline planning permission for Seagreen to construct an electricity substation on another part of the site, taking power from an offshore windfarm and feeding it into the National Grid, with associated underground cabling.
It is anticipated that if bids for support from UK Government are successful, work will begin on these during 2023. A further energy-related proposal for a small part of the site is also under discussion.
Access road proposal
A planning application has been submitted for new road to assist with access to the substations, as well as facilitating development on the wider site. Doing so would help to reduce traffic on existing streets in Cockenzie and Port Seton.
Ultimately the proposed road would link the Alder Road junction on the B6371 approach to Cockenzie with the existing B1348 road. Much of the route would follow an existing service road to the former coal plant and be complemented by a lane, largely set back from the main roadway, to encourage safe walking and cycling.
Local communities have already provided valuable input into an initial master-plan for how the site might be taken forward. There is a need to refine this and set a vision for necessary works to prepare the site for development.
There are two community-led proposals, both of which have had the benefit of feasibility work funded by the council.
In November 2021, Councillors agreed to approve funding for a feasibility study into the development of the proposed 360 Centre, a community-led initiative to create a nationally important climate change centre. At this point, the 360 project has selected its preferred consultant and its study needs time to take its course, to identify the potential for and viability of, the proposal.
Cruise terminal proposal
A study prepared by AECOM in January 2021 indicated a capital cost to provide a cruise berth of between £44 and £80m with a payback period of between 16 and 21 years. The report also notes cruise can be a marginal business and that dedicated facilities come about where a large cruise operator is willing to commit to its use. Researchers contacted cruise operators, who indicated that investing in cruise terminals is not something they perceive to be worthwhile, as they focus on profit from investment in vessels. The report noted that existing facilities in the Forth serve many existing cruise requirements. The report notes that it does not appear to be a viable alternative to develop a port to compete directly with Forth Ports.
Councillors have now agreed that the Chief Executive will write formally to the Chief Executive of Forth Ports to seek confirmation as to whether Forth Ports would agree to the exploration of a partnership or joint venture at Cockenzie.
Decisions will then be required to determine whether either of these projects, or elements of them, are viable and capable of being taken forward as part of the further master-planning.
Another ongoing project is a submission to the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund to bid for support to undertake necessary works to the site, which will enhance and optimise the opportunity for the future development of the site.
It is proposed that a master-planner be appointed to consider the development potential of the site generally and identify constraints and core infrastructure to divide the site into development parcels.
Technical work will continue to assess development potential as part of the wider Blindwells and a potential Climate Evolution Zone, looking at flood risk and mitigation.
Liaison will continue with Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Futures Trust and Scottish Development International regarding the potential marketplace for UK-wide or international investments. This will include further assessment of investment in a data centre, in response to a Scottish Futures Trust study which identified Cockenzie as a potential site.
An agent will also be appointed to develop a marketing strategy and market the site UK-wide and internationally.
These actions will contribute to development of the vision and continue progress towards development.