A CHARITY’S bid to build affordable housing on land which has lain empty for nearly a decade will go ahead after a Scottish Government Reporter dismissed East Lothian Council claims the site was needed for employment.

Housing charity LAR had applied for planning consent to build four houses and 22 flats on a site next to the railway line at Mid Road, Prestonpans.

The land, west of Johnnie Cope’s Road, and close to the Co-op superstore, is designated for business use but no employer has come forward.

East Lothian Council rejected the planning application, despite having tried unsuccessfully to buy the land for housing itself two years previously.

The local authority insisted that its current Local Development Plan had enough land set aside for housing in the county in the years ahead and needed to safeguard the site for job creation.

However, in his written findings, the Reporter stated that the council had actually fallen far short of meeting the demand for affordable housing in recent years and was expecting a further shortfall in the future.

The Reporter said: “There was an estimated unmet affordable housing need in East Lothian of 1,832 units for the five-year period 2012/13-2017/18 and a further shortfall of 396 units for the following five years.”

LAR, which was set up to provide affordable and mid-level rental housing across Scotland, invested £40,000 preparing plans for the site after it was initially told by the council that it would allow the site to be used for housing.

But at a meeting in March, councillors rejected the proposal, insisting it would set a precedent for other developers keen to build on land earmarked for employment.

The appeal to the Scottish Reporter, however, highlighted that the site had not attracted any employers over the last decade; furthermore, the council itself had made an offer in 2017 to buy the land for £200,000 to build houses but that was rejected by the land owner.

Issuing a notice of intent to grant planning permission to LAR, the Reporter said that while the council had argued that residential schemes due to be built in the future would provide 1,300 affordable housing units, none were close to Prestonpans.

He ruled the proposal by LAR would “make a useful contribution to the requirement”.

And the Reporter said that East Lothian Council’s own attempts to buy the land for housing, a lack of interest in it from employers, and previous advice to the charity that planners would consider a change of use, given in 2016, meant there could be no objection to the loss of the site for business and industrial use.

He said: “In this particular set of circumstances, which are very favourable for the proposed use and poor in relation to the prospect for future employment use, I am satisfied that no undesirable precedent would be set by approval of the current proposal.”

Ann Leslie, chief executive of LAR, said: “We welcome this news and feel that the right decision has been reached. We are committed to increasing the supply of good-quality mid-market rental homes in East Lothian and will continue to work closely with the council and local communities to identify further development opportunities going forward.”