MORE than 120 people have signed a petition calling on a community council to oppose a planning application. . . before it has even been lodged.

A meeting of Gullane Area Community Council last night heard that a petition against renewed plans to remove 48 trees which survived Storm Arwen to make way for a house on land in the village was one of two signed by locals.

And community councillors were urged to back the views of people who signed the petitions, with a spokesperson urging them to act ‘in the best interests’ of the community.

The meeting had heard from landowner Lorn Macneal who presented his proposal for a new house on the grounds of his current home in The Hawthorns.

Mr Macneal saw a previous planning application for two new homes on the site rejected by East Lothian planning committee last year amid concerns over the removal of the Scots pines and overdevelopment.

READ MORE: Gullane: Trees which survived Storm Arwen saved from the chop as flat plans rejected

He told the public meeting his new proposal reduced the footprint of the property but still required the removal of the 48 trees, which he described as “abnormally tall and spindly”, with them being replaced by the same number of saplings.

Mr Macneal told the meeting that he understood the “real fears” of neighbours that if he was granted permission for the house he might go on to build additional housing on the land.

But he said: “I don’t wish to carry out any further development in the woodland and I am happy to enter into a legally binding agreement with neighbours to this effect.”

Mr Macneal, who described himself as a passionate architect, said he hoped his children, who live in London, would eventually move up to the area and use the new home adding: “I am not the fat cat that there seems to be a perception of when I walk down the street.”

Community councillors questioned the claims that the Scots pines were in a poor condition, with one questioning whether a report by a woodland consultant was based on ‘visual inspection’ rather than using tools.

While another said: “These trees are strong, they survived Storm Arwen which brought down a lot of trees along the coastline. They may look distressed but that is down to the conditions they have grown in.”

Mr Macneal insisted the consultant’s view was that the trees were near end of life, claiming they survived the storm because there was “no meat on their bones for the wind to grab”.

Bill Lowe, a fellow resident of The Hawthorns, highlighted that the trees had been categorised as a ‘C’ condition which he said was not as bad as was being presented.

He also challenged Mr Macneal over claims legal restrictions had been placed on the trees he currently proposed to remove when the land was sold by East Lothian Council decades ago which placed a burden on the landowner not to develop the land.

However, community council chairman Malcolm Duck intervened in the questioning, pointing out there were no legal experts in the room.

He told the meeting: “We are here to hear this presentation and take different views from people to gather opinion. We have no legal experts here.”

David Ratcliffe, also a resident of The Hawthorns, presented the community council with the petitions, one signed by 17 people living in six of the seven notifiable residences connected to the proposed application site opposing the removal of the trees and new house, and another from the wider community.

He said: “The second petition calls on the community council to support the community’s objections to the felling of protected woodlands at The Hawthorns with around 120 Gullane residents all voicing their objections to the removal of these trees.”

Mr Duck told the objectors that the community council could not make a decision on its position until a planning application has been lodged, pointing out changes may be made to it by Mr Macneal following the meeting.

And he warned: “It may be that the community council has to take a different view to the village association, but it will be the decision of the community council as a whole.”