A CHARITY’S bid to build affordable housing on land which has lain empty for nearly a decade has been rejected by councillors.

Housing charity LAR had applied to build four houses and 22 flats on the land, which is designated for business use, in Prestonpans but has failed to find an employer to take it on.

Despite a personal plea from the charity’s chief executive and an admission that East Lothian Council had tried to buy the site for housing itself just two years ago, the affordable housing bid was rejected at a meeting of the council’s planning committee on Tuesday.

The decision came despite LAR revealing it had invested £40,000 in preparing plans for the site after it was told the council would consider a change of use.

Chief executive Ann Leslie told the committee that out of 600 homes built or under construction by the charity since it began, 104 had been in East Lothian and there were currently 80 people on its waiting list to move into one in the county.

And she revealed the charity has been considering moving its base to East Lothian.

She said: “We are very keen to support East Lothian as much as we are able to bring as many affordable homes as we can. There is a big waiting list in the county and we hope to open a base here.”

But planning officers urged councillors to reject LAR’s proposals, regardless of their own efforts to build housing there two years ago.

Iain McFarlane, head of planning, said that two years ago the council did not have its Local Development Plan approved and faced a shortage of land for affordable housing.

Now the plan had been adopted, he said there was sufficient land supply for the next five years.

He said allowing housing on the site would set an “undesirable precedent”, adding it would be “selling our employment plans down the river”.

Councillor Kenny McLeod, committee member, said he was “deeply uncomfortable” about refusing planning permission on a site the council had tried to develop in the same way two years ago.

At the time, council officers said the landowner rejected their £200,000 offer as too low.

Robin Holder, representing LAR at the meeting, said the council had given written reassurance it would consider the site, which has lain empty since 2011, for housing.

He rejected claims that approving the plans would set a precedent, saying: “This is a small area, this site is a quarter of one per cent  of land identified for industrial use in East Lothian. The site has been vacant for many years and the evidence suggests it will remain so.”

But Councillor Norman Hampshire said: “I cannot support the application: it would send a message to other owners of land designated for business use.”

The committee rejected the planning application by six votes to three.

Following the meeting, Ms Leslie said: “Naturally we are disappointed at the decision and are considering whether to appeal against it.

“We have worked very closely with East Lothian Council over the last three years on a number of projects to enhance the provision of good-quality affordable homes in the area and have enjoyed a very positive working relationship with them.

“Our proposal for Prestonpans was a design and build project for 26 homes, very similar to our recently completed development at the disused site of the former boatyard in Cockenzie. This proved to be extremely popular and was vastly oversubscribed, so there is an urgent need for homes like ours.

“We understand that this site in Prestonpans had been earmarked for commercial use but, in the absence of any confirmed interest, we had hoped that our plans, which would enhance the local environment and provide much-needed affordable housing, would have been supported.”