A HOUSING project which a developer says will help finance the completion of a long-delayed greyhound stadium in Wallyford is on the brink of being approved.

The steel structure of the unfinished stadium grandstand has stood as an eyesore for nearly a decade - with no greyhound racing ever taking place.

Howard Wallace was turned down in his application for 94 houses at Barbachlaw Farm, just off Salters Road - south-east of the stadium site at Victory Lane - and a relocated stadium car park when the matter last came before councillors in 2011.

But he appealed to the Scottish Government and Reporter Richard Hickman, has now said he is "minded to allow the appeal and grant planning permission".

That is subject to the signing of a legal agreement between Mr Wallace and the council, and a condition that "no work (other than preliminary site preparation works) shall be begun on the houses approved. . . until a binding contract be put in place to complete the stadium for use".

The reporter says this is "to ensure that the housing development does not proceed without reasonable assurance that the stadium will be completed".

Mr Wallace did not wish to comment at this stage of the process.

Bob Salter - speaking on behalf of Mr Wallace - previously told councillors that there was "no other avenue" other than putting the proceeds of the housing into construction of the stadium, insisting: "It will be a complete stadium."

It is understood that an agreement between the council and Mr Wallace is "very close" to being reached - after which the Reporter will give his final decision.

The permission granted by the council in December 2004 for the stadium, business land and nearby houses included an agreement which required the steel structure of the stadium to be erected and business land to be serviced before the housing started.The steel structure was put up, but the housing started without the required servicing of the business land.

It later emerged that the developer had difficulties in financing the completion of the stadium and, late in 2005, the local authority agreed to amend the agreement to allow the housing construction to continue.

There has since been no further progress on the construction of the stadium or the servicing of the business land.

Mr Wallace came back to the council in February 2011 proposing this new batch of housing on land designated for business park use, saying the development would plug the funding gap of up to �5 million which exists for the 5,000-capacity stadium.

Councillors voted at a meeting 12-8 in favour of upholding council officers' recommendation of rejecting the application.

Barry Turner, then-Lib Dem councillor for Musselburgh West and planning convenor, was the following year suspended from planning duties for three months after he was found guilty of breaching the Councillors' Code of Conduct by lobbying fellow councillors to reject Mr Wallace's application prior to them considering it.

Mr Wallace launched a series of legal actions against the council in June 2011 but a judicial review on the matter later found in the council's favour.

He also submitted a complaint to the Standards Commission for Scotland about Councillor David Berry, then an SNP member but now independent, after a letter from Mr Berry published in the Courier in March 2011.

Mr Berry had claimed Mr Wallace had "defaulted" on a Section 75 agreement to complete the stadium and provide services for the nearby proposed business park to develop, but had "pocketed the dosh" from initial housing built at the time.

However, the complaint was withdrawn that August after Mr Berry apologised.

Mr Turner told the Courier this week that the stadium now had "more credibility" given the lack of progress on other major housing schemes in Wallyford and little prospect of the housing situation improving soon.

But he added: "There is a significant Green Belt issue here and I find the Reporter's reasoning strange in accepting the principle of a car park within the Green Belt and, it would appear, the possibility of development there if employment land is subsequently needed. "This is because the Reporter who considered the Local Plan stated that this is a very important, sustainable Green Belt boundary.

"Not only is this land important as a buffer between Wallyford, Inveresk and Musselburgh but it is the site of the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. Once breached, Green Belt boundaries are very difficult to protect.

"The other thing that concerns me is the credence given by the Reporter to the employment creation and economic development potential of the greyhound stadium which to me always looked dubious.

"What is noteworthy about the Reporter's decision is the fact that it is on hold until a Section 75 agreement is in place relating to the delivery of the stadium, and rightly so in my view for there remain real concerns and doubt about whether an agreement that is watertight can be reached. "If agreement cannot be reached in the timescale set the decision will be reviewed. The worst case scenario is that the houses proposed are built but do not lead to the completion of the stadium and proposals come forward for even more houses, this time on the Green Belt, in order to complete it. Overall I am disappointed but not surprised by the decision given the changed circumstances on housing and the weight that has been given to economic arguments by the Reporter." Mr Wallace anticipates that the stadium could create 183 jobs, attract 365 visitors annually and bring �10 million per year to the local economy.

Elaine di Troia, chair of Wallyford Community Council, said: "It's been a long time coming. The way it was put to us was that it was going to create work for locals which was a good thing.

"Our biggest concerns were the volume of traffic. But it is an eyesore just now so if it is completed it can only be a good thing. There's always been a history of greyhound racing in Wallyford."

Councillor Andy Forrest (Lab), Musselburgh East and Carberry ward, said: "I welcome the news that the greyhound stadium will possibly go ahead. This will be a further boost to the village.

"We have already had the new Day-Today store open in the last two months creating employment. As and when the stadium is completed, it will bring more jobs to the village."

Fellow ward member Councillor Stuart Currie (SNP) said: "Now that it would seem that the Scottish Government is minded to allow the appeal I would hope that both the houses and the greyhound stadium can be built soon as possible.

"The current stadium shell is an eyesore and needs to be completed and, of course, housing is required and I would hope that 25 per cent of this will be for affordable rent.

"It has been a long running saga which is now nearing a conclusion and should provide a level of certainty for the local community and the businesses involved."

Councillor John Caldwell (ind), also Musselburgh East and Carberry, said: "This is the last chance, really. It's at the stage now where the developer has to complete the thing. People either want to see the stadium completed as an entirety or removed."