PLANS for nearly 200 new homes in Tranent, along with business units, a shop and a restaurant, have been thrown out by councillors due to the loss of land set aside for employment use.

And at a meeting of East Lothian Council's planning committee on Tuesday, councillors called for more power to bring land which had set aside for jobs onto the market, amid claims that developers were targeting the sites for "windfall" housing.

Concerns were raised as members of the planning committee were asked to decide a planning application for 195 homes on nearly nine hectares of agricultural land earmarked in their own Local Development Plan (LDP) for employment use.

House developers Mactaggart and Mickel claimed that the land at Windygoul was not "commercially viable", adding that there was an over-provision of employment land available in East Lothian.

The proposals, which also included 14 business units, a shop and bar/restaurant, featured 171 homes and 24 flats on land sandwiched between Elphinstone Road and the core path which connects the existing Windygoul properties to the minor road to the rear of Charles River.

A report to the committee from planners said that the developers had said it was “highly unlikely that this site will be developed for commercial property uses”.

Recommended to refuse

It was suggested that the location was not right and there was an excess of other sites more suited to its use available.

However, Councillor John McMillan, the administration’s economic development spokesperson, said that the council’s economic strategy was to encourage the increase of jobs in the county.

And ward councillor Lee-Anne Menzies pointed out that the county’s second biggest employer Charles River operated directly next to the site.

She asked how the site could be described as unsuitable when “our second biggest employer sits right next door”.

Committee members were recommended to refuse the application by planning officers, who said that it was an unacceptable loss of employment land and developers had refused to pay a contribution towards sports facilities at the site if given the go-ahead.

Six letters were sent to the planning department, with only one supporting the development.

Cemetery full

Tranent and Elphinstone Community Council also objected to the plans, saying that public services in the town could not cope with the extra housing – adding that even the cemetery was full.

The group highlighted the “pressure” the development could put on existing infrastructure in the town, including Tranent Medical Practice and roads like Ormiston Road and Elphinstone Road, as well as the junction with Bridge Street, as well as an expected increase in traffic on High Street and nearby Church Street.

The community council added its belief that a proposed site for housing at Kingslaw was “much more viable" due to its proximity to the A1.

At Tuesday's planning committee meeting Councillor Colin McGinn described the developers' refusal to pay a contribution requested by planning officers of nearly £250,000 towards sports facilities on the site as "disconcerting" – however, Bruce Hampton, from Mactaggart and Mickel, said that they were not against paying a sporting contribution but disputed the amount.

Mr McGinn said: “I am concerned about the nature of this application. My personal opinion is it is a speculative application designed to override the current Local Development Plan.

“It aims to push land identified as employment land towards a much more profitable and lucrative model, which emphasises my point in the debate over sports provision.

“There is a fundamental issue here and we are going to see other application of this nature come forward and we need to take some further action.

“We need to write to the Scottish Government to discuss how we and other local authorities maintain control of these areas of land identified under our LDPs.

“If we don’t get permission to take control of this, we are in danger of losing land which is earmarked for employment.”

'Break' the council

Councillor Norman Hampshire, planning convenor and council leader, said that allowing more housing on land which was not already set aside for residential development in the county would "break" the council.

He said: “We are now in the situation in East Lothian where the landowners and developers who own the site we have allocation for economic development are not bringing them forward.

“They are not putting in the infrastructure required for economic development to take place, so we have ended up with lots of green fields and no economic development.

“We need more power to be given to this council to allow us to bring these sites forward and make sure there is availability for new businesses and expanding businesses to stay within the county.

“If this application was to go through, the planning system would be broken.

“We are at a max as far as new build in East Lothian. We cannot afford to build any new developments over and above what is in the LDP because the cost of delivering that would break the bank within East Lothian Council.”

The committee unanimously agreed that the council leader should write to the Scottish Government to refuse planning permission for the housing.

Mix of homes

Proposals for the Windygoul site were first lodged with East Lothian Council in February 2018 and had been amended several times, with the number of homes proposed dropping from 203 to 195.

All of the residential properties, which would have been split into 49 affordable housing units for social rent, 59 mid-market rent properties and 87 houses for private sale, would have been two-storey.

The affordable homes for social rent would have been split into a mix of one-bedroom flats and two, three and four-bedroom terraced or semi-detached homes.

The private housing for sale and mid-market rent properties would also have been a mix of two, three and four-bedroom, with 59 detached, a further 59 terraced houses and 28 semi-detached properties.

The business units, bar/restaurant and shop would all have been based at the west of the site, off Elphinstone Road.