A BID to build a house on part of a gypsy travellers site in East Lothian, after demand for pitches fell in the wake of Covid, has been granted on appeal.

Paris McCallum applied for planning permission to build a house on two pitches on the site, which originally opened a decade ago on the eastern outskirts of Tranent at Muirpark Steading.

However, East Lothian planners rejected the application, saying that the house would breach its policy against new-builds in the countryside.

At a meeting of the council’s local review body last week, elected members overturned the decision by officers, after it was pointed out that additional housing added to the edge of Tranent and neighbouring Macmerry since the site opened had now created homes on either side of it.

Ward councillor Kenny McLeod said that he had been involved in the site for a long time and had commented on how "well it had looked as a gypsy site when it was a gypsy site".

He told the meeting: “Times have changed and there has been a lot of housebuilding in the area. I find it hard to find an objection to this application.”

He was backed by fellow councillor Liz Allan; however, Councillor Andy Forrest told the review body that he had difficulty approving the application.

Mr Forrest pointed out that local policy suggested that if the site could be returned to agricultural land it should be and he felt that was still an option.

He said: “I see what people are saying about it not being in the countryside with the building on either side of it, but it still is to me in the countryside and we have been told that it was prime agricultural land which could be brought back.

“My biggest concern is that if we let this one go through, it could leave us open and set a precedent.”

READ MOREAppeal to be heard over bid to build house on part of gypsy traveller site

Councillor Jeremy Findlay, review body chair, said that while the site was "to a certain extent" in the countryside, he was not sure it would return to its natural state.

He said: “It has already been used for non-agricultural purposes and I feel, given the houses built on either side of it, it would not be inappropriate there.”

In a statement supporting the application for the new house, Ms McCallum’s agent had said: “The reason for the application is that it has become evident over recent years that the site is not appropriate or attractive as a destination for mobile travellers.

“This is substantiated by lower levels of occupancy across the Lothians and Scotland post-Covid-19, with mobile travellers favouring more modern and well-equipped sites.

“Furthermore, gypsy travellers are less prepared to pay for private pitches given the cost-of-living crisis.”

In March last year, planning permission, partly retrospective, was granted for one house to replace a pitch on the site; however, Ms McCallum’s application to build a second home on additional pitches was refused.

Planners said that the build would constitute a new home in the countryside without meeting any of the exemptions which would justify it.

Agents for the applicant described their view of the steading as being in a rural local as "outdated", pointing to the buildings already on the steading, which lies 300 metres from new housing on the edge of Tranent.

The local review body granted planning permission by three votes to one.