A First World War latrine at Port Edgar in South Queensferry, along with a cell block, an air raid shelter and naval barracks, have all been put under legal protection by the government’s guardian of ancient monuments, Historic Scotland. But the buildings are directly in the way of the proposed new bridge.
The Sunday Herald can also reveal that another government agency, Transport Scotland, secretly tried to prevent the buildings from being protected in order to clear the path for the new bridge - a move that has been attacked as “inappropriate meddling” by environmentalists.
Historic Scotland, however, resisted the pressure and listed the buildings on the old military base because of their “architectural and historic significance”. This means that they cannot now be demolished unless consent has been granted under a special procedure which can involve ministers.
The site at Port Edgar was bought by the Royal Navy in 1916 and used as a base, known as HMS Columbine, for servicing torpedo boat destroyers during the First World War. During the 1930s, the barracks became holiday accommodation for poor families.
The navy moved backed in during the run-up to the Second World War, bringing in a military hospital. During the war, the base became HMS Lochinvar and was the main Scottish port for minesweepers.
After the base was closed in 1975, ownership passed to the Scottish Office and then the Scottish government, who have been holding onto it so it could be used to help build another bridge. The plan was to demolish the old naval buildings to make way for a new access road so that construction traffic wouldn’t have to go through South Queensferry.
But correspondence released to the Sunday Herald under freedom of information legislation shows that this plan has now been stymied by Historic Scotland. In April last year, the agency consulted on plans to list the buildings as “a rare and intact example of a naval barracks”.
This drew a sharp response from Transport Scotland, which is behind plans for the new bridge. “We are concerned that any listing of these buildings at this time would be premature,” wrote a senior transport official last May.
“The viability of the buildings in question could not be guaranteed in the context of delivering ministers’ commitments for a new crossing. Consequently, I would request that the proposed listing not take place, given its potential conflict with any crossing proposal in this location.”
Despite this, Historic Scotland went ahead and listed the buildings in September. They include five two-storey barracks, a guard room with cells, a boiler house, an S-shaped air raid shelter and a latrine.
Malcolm Cooper, Historic Scotland’s chief inspector, pointed out that the agency could not take account of possible future developments when assessing whether to list buildings. “This is an important part of military history,” he said.
He hoped that the detailed planning for the new bridge now under way would try to find ways of preserving the site. “Listing buildings flags up that they are of merit,” he added. “It potentially adds a complexity to the process.”
Developers wanting to demolish listed buildings have to apply to the local authority for special consent. If consent is given, the matter then has to be referred to Historic Scotland which can decide to ask ministers to call in the plans for an inquiry.
Stuart Hay, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “We are alarmed and disturbed that Transport Scotland feels it is acceptable to attempt to coerce another public body to disregard its statutory conservation duties.”
He added: “This attempt to bend the rules is symptomatic of the headlong rush to bulldoze through the project without properly addressing its negative environmental impacts.”
Bruce Whitehead, chair of the local action group, Queensferry Against Another Bridge, urged authorities to save the naval yard as part of the town’s heritage. “Ministers should not be allowed to by-pass proper democratic process by including the bridge under national planning framework legislation,” he warned.
Last week, the Scottish Parliament’s transport committee threw out a petition against the new bridge by the Queensferry group, refusing to hear the arguments. “We need the protection of local development policies more than ever,” argued Whitehead.
According to Transport Scotland, the precise impact on the barracks of building the bridge was unknown as detailed plans were still being drawn up. “Transport Scotland will always seek to avoid or, if necessary, minimise impacts on listed buildings and other designated sites where possible,” said a spokesman.