It took a few years but Grangemouth’s branch of world petrochemical powerhouse Ineos finally won the right to close a public road that runs through the heart of its site.
News of Scottish ministers granting permission for the firm to start making preparations to shut off a section of the A904 Bo’ness Road comes as Grangemouth town centre lost yet another business – TUI travel agents in La Porte Precinct has announced it would be closing its doors for good.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scottish Ministers have carefully considered all of the evidence relating to the planning application. This decision to grant the application has been taken in light of the security and regeneration effects and the strategic importance of the site.
“Planning permission has been granted subject to conditions to mitigate impacts on surrounding roads.”
Those mitigation measures could cost Ineos upward of £20 million to put in place before it achieves its ultimate goal to close off the road to the public. Earlier this month the company announced a further £350 million investment in its Grangemouth facility to help its “renaissance” as a world class petrochemicals site.
Scottish ministers went against Planning and Environmental Appeals Division recommendations not to grant the application to allow Ineos to construct two security gatehouses and security fencing on a section of Bo’ness Road.
Councillor Joan Coombes, who lives in Grangemouth, was disappointed with the decision to uphold the appeal.
She said: “Speaking not as a councillor, but as a resident, I believe ministers have put pounds before people with this decision.”
Falkirk Council rejected the planning application last year in a motion moved by Councillor David Alexander and backed unanimously by elected members.
The subsequent appeal was considered by a public inquiry which took place on February 27, 2018 and a hearing which took place on March 14, 2018 by appointed reporters Allison Coard and Elspeth Cook – with the reporters findings advising the plan be refused.
Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said: “While it is both disappointing and concerning the views of the reporter and the 30 elected members of Falkirk Council have been bypassed, it should be recognised this decision emphasises the importance of Grangemouth, not only to the Scottish economy, but to the economy of the UK as a whole.
“With an estimated one hundred thousand jobs at risk as a result of Brexit, it is essential we now work to secure our economy. This work begins now with the improvements that will be urgently required to the transport links between Grangemouth and Bo’ness in order to accommodate the minister’s decision.”
The council’s SNP administration stated Ineos would have to go through a number of time consuming and costly processes before it could actually close off the section of Bo’ness Road.
Councillor Alexander said: “It is very clear Ineos have a great deal of work to do before they can consider the closure of Bo’ness Road, and it may well be the case they are not prepared to meet these mitigation costs and conditions.
“Council officials have identified around £24 million of mitigation measures required for the road to be closed. I welcome the condition outlined by the Reporter that the programme outlined by planners must be completed before there is any closure of the Bo’ness Road.”
Back in 2017 Ineos stated: “We firmly believe removing public access along a segment of road that bisects the site is in the interests of safety and security. It also enables Grangemouth as a single site to better attract inward and third party investment, benefitting Ineos and the local area.
“Concerns about traffic and bus routes are being addressed with mitigation measures and road improvements.”
The Falkirk Herald’s Facebook page was full of comments regarding the closure of Bo’ness Road – with many people stating it would not be a bad thing.
Conrad Burt: “Why would anyone want to commute through a petrochemical complex, it should have been closed off when the Inchyra Road roundabout was constructed way back 30 years ago or so.”
Fraser Houston: “The new route will add a couple of minutes to your journey time at most. The way people are talking you’d think the diversion was via The Kyle Of Lochalsh.”
Amanda McMartin: “I would rather the road be closed, and security stepped up. We live in dangerous times.”
Other people could not believe Ineos had been given the green light to close the road.
Sandy Whyte: “Well. There’s a vote loser. Siding with a billionaire who does not live here. If the place is so dangerous, it shouldn’t be there.”
Trish Buchan: “So the Councillors were against this, the community was against it, the planning reporter was against it and the Scottish Planning Minister approved it. I actually thought we lived in a democracy.”
Charlie Hamilton: “The point in question here is if the A904 is closed and there is an incident on the other road it will mean a lengthy detour. I can only hope that all of you trying to make light of this decision are not in the back of an ambulance or are awaiting emergency services delayed due to the detour.”