PLANS for a new family farm theme park at East Fortune have won the backing of a council department.

East Links Family Park, near West Barns, has welcomed more than one million visitors since opening its doors in 2002.

Last year, Grant Bell, who operates the family attraction, revealed plans to open a similar facility at East Fortune Farm.

It is anticipated that a decision on the planning application will be made this summer.

Ahead of the planning committee scrutinising the proposals, East Lothian Council’s economic development service has said it “supports” the plans.

Its report, which the Courier has seen, was criticised by campaign group Stop The Theme Park.

David Johnston, spokesperson for the group, said two businesses nearby – Merryhatton Garden Centre and John Gray Homes Ltd – were against the proposed family theme park.

East Lothian Courier: John Muir House, East Lothian CouncilJohn Muir House, East Lothian Council

John Gray Homes Ltd is exploring the possibility of developing the neighbouring East Fortune Hospital site but currently no plans have been validated by the council’s planning department.

Mr Johnston added: “[The council department] say the theme park would be good for local businesses despite the two nearest and biggest businesses in the area submitting formal objections.

“One of those, from John Gray Homes Ltd, goes as far as to say it will stop them developing a nearby site, costing the county affordable homes that would be part of the plan.

“Then to say covering fields with a theme park will boost food production is nothing short of bizarre, unless they are anticipating candy floss machines and ice cream stalls.”

According to the plans, the proposed family theme park would feature animals, a light railway, play area and cafe.

READ MORE: Plans for family park at East Fortune Farm now revealed in full

AP Dale, who owns the land at the current family park, has already said the facility will remain open, with another operator taking on the attraction.

Mr Bell’s lease at the existing facility is due to expire in 2026.

The economic development report reads: “Based on the number of annual tourist visits to East Lothian and visitor research carried out in 2021, it is reasonable to say that both sites could support family attractions.”

It points to the annual visitor numbers and turnover at the existing facility and adds: “This provides a high level of confidence that the new joint venture between the operator and East Fortune Farm would be run efficiently and effectively for the benefit of the businesses and local area.”

Mr Johnston said that the report was based on a claim that the new park would have the same number of workers and visitors as the existing one.

He added: “You won’t suddenly find double the number of people wanting to go to an East Lothian theme park.

“All that will happen is that neither park will thrive and the future of East Links, a key part of the area’s tourism offering, will be in doubt.”