OBJECTORS to a motocross track on a farm in East Lothian have won a court battle to overturn a decision by Scottish Ministers to let it carry on operating.

Farmer James Nisbet was ordered to remove the track from his Humbie land two years ago after East Lothian Council issued an enforcement order against it.

But he won an appeal to Scottish Ministers after arguing that the notice was issued five days too late for the four-year deadline required, and producing pictures of sheep grazing on the track to show that it was used as agricultural land for most of the year.

Now judges at the Court of Session have quashed that decision and ordered Scottish Ministers to reconsider the appeal, using a different Scottish Government reporter.

In a judgement issued last month, they said that the reporter appointed to investigate the appeal for ministers had got it wrong after placing the onus for proving when the track was "substantially complete" on planners instead of the applicant.

And they questioned how the reporter could accept that the land used remained active agricultural ground most of the year on the basis of photographs showing sheep grazing on the track.

They said: “The reporter appears not to have appreciated that it was for Mr Nisbet, as the appellant, to demonstrate that the development was substantially completed more than four years before the service of the enforcement notice.”

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East Lothian Council had stepped in after complaints from some residents about the track, including noise.

The council said it issued the enforcement notice on October 18, 2022, and it was served to Mr Nisbet the following day.

However, planning laws say such a notice must be served within four years of the project being substantially completed – something Mr Nisbet argued had happened by October 13, 2018.

The judgement is critical of the reporter, saying that he appeared to take "on face value" Mr Nisbet’s statement of when the track was complete.

'Difficult to understand'

Mr Nisbet had argued that there had been motocross tracks on different parts of Bughtknowe Farm, Humbie, for 20 years without any need for planning permission.

And he said that there were no grounds to have it removed, as separate planning laws said if it was not used for more than 28 days of the year for racing and was returned to agricultural use the rest of the year then it was permitted development.

He provided photographs of sheep grazing on the track to show it was used as farmland when not hosting events.

However, the judgement said of the decision to accept that evidence: “It is difficult to understand how the reporter reached this conclusion.”

It said: “First, what is now in place is a racetrack, not a field or other agricultural use. The racetrack is not dismantled at the end of every race. It remains in place.

“Secondly, the facts that sheep might graze there from time to time, or that the grass is cut and used for silage, are incidental to its primary purpose as a racetrack.”

The appeal has been sent back to Scottish Ministers to reconsider.