FM's visit blown off course
Sturgeon embroiled in Chinese power station row
Nicola Sturgeon’s meeting with China marine company was overshadowed by a row back home
Nicola Sturgeon has been drawn into a row over a Chinese power station plan after it emerged that she met officials of the company just a day after ministers removed the planning application from the local council.
The state-owned company Inch Cape Offshore wants to build a wind farm on the site of the old Cockenzie Power Station, but there are fears it could undermine long-standing local plans to develop the site.
Scottish Ministers have called in the planning application in a move branded “disastrous” by one local councillor on East Lothian Council which bought the site from ScottishPower last month.
ICOL is owned by Red Rock Power, a subsidiary of China’s State Development and Investment Corporation (SDIC).
Nicola Sturgeon opened Red Rock’s Edinburgh offices back in November 2016 and met officials of the firm in China on Tuesday, although her officials say the application was not discussed.
Ministers told East Lothian Council they were calling in the Inch Cape plan because it was “potentially of national importance in the context of expectations set out in National Planning Framework”.
Inch Cape wants to build the substation on the former power station site to bring offshore energy from a planned wind farm into the National Grid.
But opposition MSPs have expressed concern over the handling of the application.
Liberal Democrat energy spokesperson Liam McArthur said: “Cutting local representatives out of the loop, before they have even come to a decision, risks giving the impression that Scottish ministers are more interested in touting for Chinese business than respecting local decision making.
“Scotland needs to harness its offshore wind resources, but this a strange decision for ministers to take at this stage and local people will understandably wonder how their views will now be taken into account.”
Iain Gray, East Lothian MSP, said he would be asking for an explanation.
He said: “I am very concerned that ministers have chosen to remove this decision from our local representatives. The Cockenzie site is critical for local job creation and that could be jeopardised by the placing of a substation right in the middle of it.
Ward councillor Fiona O’Donnell added: ‘This decision by the Scottish Government is an insult to people in my ward, especially those who have taken part in the consultation about the future of the power station site.
“It has literally taken years of work by the council to secure ownership of the site so that we can ensure the decisions taken about its future are in the best interests of local people.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create jobs and bring benefit to our local economy across the county.
“This land is our land and the Scottish Government need to respect our right to determine the future of the site.”
The row overshadowed an announcement during Ms Sturgeon’s visit by China Ocean Engineering Shanghai Co (COES) to seek decommissioning work in Scotland.
The company specialises in offshore construction and decommissioning, ocean going towage, salvage and wreck removal and offshore renewable activity worldwide.
It has been scoping out premises and port facilities on the east coast capable of serving offshore markets in the UK, Norwegian and Dutch sectors.
Dundee has been selected and the company said it expects to create an unspecified number of jobs in Scotland if it secures contracts.
The company said being in Dundee would better position it “to capitalise on the massive opportunity in Scotland’s offshore oil and gas decommissioning market”.
Ports around Scotland are campaigning for more of the work to be retained in Scotland after warning that much of it is going elsewhere, principally Turkey and India.
Latest forecasts from the industry trade association Oil and Gas UK estimates decommissioning expenditure at £17 billion on the UK continental shelf alone until 2025.
Forecast annual decommissioning spend on the Norwegian and Dutch sectors are put at between £400 and £800 million and £650 and £800m respectively.
The First Minister said: “I welcome the announcement that COES intends to establish a base in Scotland. Throughout my visit to China I have been travelling with the message that Scotland is a fantastic place to invest and do business. I look forward to hearing more details of COES’s plans in due course.”
COES has a flexible fleet of over 40+ specialised assets and a track record of completing complex projects. It has recently invested substantially in the construction of two state of the art construction engineering vessels which are under construction and are expected to bring “pivotal and game changing marine capabilities” to the region.
Last year COES received international acclaim from marine experts for completing, arguably, one of most difficult offshore single lift wreck recoveries ever attempted.
The raising of a passenger ferry, which sank off the southwest coast of Korea, was a complex and sensitive project.