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16 April 2018, 15:18
The Scottish Government has said a planning application near Edinburgh Zoo could be called in over panda health concerns.
The zoo is home to two giant pandas on loan to Scotland from China and concerns have been raised a planned neighbouring housing development could affect the animals during construction.
Scottish ministers have now sent a letter to Edinburgh Council directing them to notify the government if permission is granted for the 78-home redevelopment of Corstorphine Hospital, so they can decide whether or not take the decision out of the council's hands.
The letter state this is due to issues of "national importance" which include "possible negative health impacts for giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo during construction".
It continues: "This direction does not commit ministers to calling in any such application but it does reserve their right to intervene."
Labour has criticised the move and linked it to the government calling in a planning application for a Chinese-backed offshore wind farm development in East Lothian, which the Scottish Government has insisted is not connected to the First Minister meeting the parent firm on her China visit last week.
Scottish Labour communities spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: "The Scottish Government appears to be developing a habit of interfering in local democratic planning decisions, especially when Chinese interests are involved.
"Last week we discovered that SNP ministers had called in a planning application for the old Cockenzie power plant, before East Lothian Council had even had a chance to consider it and on the very day the First Minister met with the Chinese company behind the application.
"Now they are putting Edinburgh City Council on notice that its decision on a site next to Edinburgh Zoo is being watched because it might affect the Chinese pandas.
"The Scottish Government should let planning committees get on with their job and stop undermining the role of councils and local democracy."
She also called for a urgent parliamentary statement on the East Lothian decision.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Ministers have issued the direction in view of concerns relating to the potential impact of the proposed development including possible negative health impacts for giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo during construction, as raised in representations by Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
"As the applications for both planning consent and listed building consent remain live, the Scottish Government is unable to comment further at this time."