ATTEMPTS to build modern housing next to one of Scotland’s oldest castles have been thrown out after they were described as “as alien as if they had landed from outer space”.

Scotland’s environmental lobby joined forces with local campaigners to oppose plans for 36 new homes in Dirleton.

The Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS) told East Lothian Council the plans to build next to medieval Dirleton Castle, which dates back to the mid 13th century, were too “modern and suburban”.

The association said the new development, proposed at Castlemains Farm immediately to the east of the castle, would “irreparably damage the setting of Dirleton, destroying the important edges that define the village and separate it from the surrounding countryside”.

And at a meeting of the local authority’s planning committee in Haddington, councillors voted by seven to four to reject the plans, which had been recommended for approval by their own officers.

Local ward councillor Jane Henderson said that the intervention from APRS had been “critical” as she criticised Historic Environment Scotland, which is responsible for Dirleton Castle, after it failed to formally object to the proposals.

The public agency, who were consultees on the application, told the local authority that while they acknowledged the development might have an impact on the castle, which is a scheduled monument, they considered the proposals not to have an impact of “national significance”.

Councillor Henderson said: "I am particularly disappointed in Historic Environment Scotland. How they can hold that name and come through so weakly on the setting of a castle, you have to ask questions about that.”

However, the agency said it had already responded to a previous application for housing on the same site which had later been withdrawn.

They said: “We were consulted by East Lothian Council on the planning application for Castlemains Farm in January 2018, on the potential impact of this application on the setting of Dirleton Castle and Gardens which is a scheduled monument.

“This second planning application addressed the concerns that had been raised when the first planning application was submitted, primarily the impact of the development on the relationship between the castle and the land to the south and east. As a result, we did not object to the application.

“We did, however, highlight a risk of impact from landscaping and lighting, and have recommended further mitigation.”

Developers Queensberry Properties told the committee they had held extensive consultations with council planners and the local community but they admitted they had come to an impasse with Dirleton Village Association and had to “agree to disagree”.

Their spokesman told the committee that while they wanted the new houses to face outwards on the edge of the village instead of presenting visitors with a view of “garden sheds and trampolines”, the village association wanted the houses to “turn their back on the outside world”.

Architect John Finlay, who helped produce the Dirleton Expects document outlining the village association’s vision for its future, said: “The design is as alien as if it had landed from outer space. It even has a suburban road, with all the clutter that entails, in the forefront of the castle.”

Martin White from Gullane Area Community Council said the group was opposed to the development because “you do not hide castles”.

He said: “Dirleton Castle is one of East Lothian’s top five visitor attractions. It may not be of national impact but it certainly matters in East Lothian.”

The council received 71 written objections and only one representation supporting the development, which cited a need for affordable housing in the village.

Dirleton Castle is a medieval fortress which dates back to the mid-13th century and has been at the centre of numerous sieges. At one point it was owned by the Ruthvens, who were involved in several plots against Mary Queen of Scots and King James VI.

Councillor Stuart Currie, planning committee member, raised concerns that the development appeared to bear little resemblance to the original development brief for the site that the local authority had consulted on with the community.

However, planning convenor Councillor Norman Hampshire said the fact those opposing the development did not have the support of Historic Environment Scotland and the council’s own heritage officer led him to back the planning officials’ recommendation to approve it.

The committee voted to reject the recommendation to approve the plans by seven votes to four.