August 8, 2008

Waterfront Boost After Project Ruled Safe for Birds

By Jenny Haworth environment correspondent

PLANS to transform Edinburgh's waterfront can go ahead without harming important wildlife habitats, conservationists said yesterday.

One of Britain's largest colonies of common terns was among birds feared to be under threat from the 144-hectare Forth Ports development in Leith Docks.

Now Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has responded to a City of Edinburgh Council consultation, saying the proposed development would not adversely affect the important wildlife sites, as long as proper measures are in place.

In the biggest planning application ever to come before the council, Forth Ports hopes to transform the dockland by building about 16,000 new homes, as well as cafes, bars, restaurants, schools, parks, marinas and a cultural quarter.

However, nearby there are two internationally important areas for wildfowl and wading birds. One, at Imperial Dock Lock - an island north-east of Ocean Terminal - is home to almost 1,000 breeding pairs of common tern.

The other, in the Firth of Forth, is important for red-throated diver, Slavonian grebe, golden plover, bar-tailed godwit, sandwich tern, pink-footed goose, shelduck, knot, redshank and turnstone.

There had been concerns from SNH that the development could disturb the birds in the Special Protection Areas (SPAs), which are protected by European legislation. However, now SNH has advised that it would support the scheme.

As a result of meetings between SNH, Forth Ports and the City of Edinburgh Council, Forth Ports has agreed to lower the height of buildings around both SPAs, leave an area around Imperial Lock Dock SPA undeveloped, and move a footbridge away from the tern population.

Iain Rennick, the SNH area manager in Forth and Borders, said: "If the mitigation measures that have already been broadly agreed with Forth Ports are applied as part of planning consent, then we believe this can become a leading example of a modern development, working alongside wildlife.

"Maintaining wildlife and a 'natural' coastal area at the heart of such a development is really inspiring and should add to the overall quality of life in Leith in years to come," said Mr Rennick.

SNH has lodged a holding objection to the project, but this is expected to be withdrawn once the mitigation measures have been included in the planning consent.

A spokesman for Forth Ports said: "We have been working very closely with Scottish Natural Heritage on these specific environmental issues, and we are in the process of addressing any concerns they have. These are all things we have committed to deliver on."

A spokesman for RSPB Scotland agreed, that as long as certain measures were taken to protect the birds, they would support the development. A decision on the application could be made in the next few months.

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