A ‘Trumpian’ bid to build 78 luxury houses to fund a £3.6m golf club upgrade has been backed by councillors despite concerns over its community benefits.
Dunbar Golf Club and Cala Homes applied for planning permission to build houses on the land to enable an expansion of its facilities including a new clubhouse, golf academy and driving range.
The move was backed by East Lothian Council planners, who pointed out an original application for a similar development had already been granted more than a decade ago.
However objectors called on councillors to throw out the application saying it should be considered in post Covid times, describing the original plans as “elderly and confused”.
Representing the club, agent Tony Thomas told a virtual meeting of the council’s planning committee this week that it had community support.
He said East Lothian Active Schools backed the expansion of the club which had seen 350 P1 to P3 pupils receive an introduction to golf on the course, adding the original planning application received 650 letters of support.
And he said the club had raised more than £100,000 for local causes and charities over the last five years, saying: “This is truly a local project with local benefits.”
The committee heard there had been 50 objections to the current plans however, with both Dunbar and West Barns community councils among them.
Local residents Alistair Davison, urged the committee to reject the proposals pointing out the housing was not in the council’s own local development plan and approving it would be a “significant democratic deficit.”
Mr Davison added that the original plans for the golf club expansion were “elderly and confused” and ten years on should not be the basis for any decision.
Describing the plan as an “impoverished version” of the one approved a decade ago, he said: “It is a bargain basement version with the benefits to the community removed.”
And Dunbar GP Rob Campbell said the loss of green space to the houses and decision to go ahead with a plan originally approved over ten years ago was ‘ludicrous’
He said: “There are marked changes in the evidence around this since the outline application was approved a decade ago. The Covid pandemic has massively shifted the public appreciation of accessible green spaces.
“Locals will have to get into their car to go for a walk, it is a clear barrier to exercise.
“Using a loophole to make this an enabling development is decidedly ‘Trumpian’ in nature – Aberdeen planners are still reeling from the decisions they made, we don’t want East Lothian to go the same way.”
Jacquie Bell, speaking on behalf of the community councils, also questioned whether the development’s claim of needing to build 78 houses to fund the golf club were valid.
She said: “There are major issues with the loss of green space for the community, linked to that are the loss of wildlife habitat and loss of biodiversity.”
And Scottish Greens councillor Shona McIntosh said the plans highlighted the inequality across East Lothian.
She said: “Seeing all these houses with four or five bedrooms and four parking spaces for cars, I just thought there was something a bit obscene about that when we are all sitting in other meetings at the moment listening to how our constituents are having to go to foodbanks for food.
“There is a really great inequality in East Lothian just now and to give the green light to luxury homes to fund a golf club which is also a private commercial enterprise, I have big reservations about that.”
However local ward councillor Donna Collins welcomed the development.
She said: “I think it is going to be a tremendous benefit for Dunbar, the school’s project has already brought hundreds of kids into the golfing world.
“Bringing in a new nine-hole course will be beneficial to them. It is a boost for the local economy as far as I can see and will bring more people here to play and more competitions into town.”
And Councillor Kenny McLeod said: “This is an open qualifying course, it is big business with second rate facilities and I am looking forward to it having first rate facilities.”
The committee approved the plans by seven votes to three.
Jacky Montgomery, PGA director of golf at Dunbar Golf Club, welcomed the decision which he said would bring exciting new facilities to the community.
He said: “Having these exciting new facilities will not only be a major benefit for our members and visitors, but it opens up significant opportunities for local people to get involved in golf and to enjoy the many health and well-being aspects of participating in the sport.
“From the driving range and academy, through to the short game practice area and the Par 3 golf course, we are breaking down barriers into the game. It will also give us much greater scope to further develop the work we do with our local schools and community groups.”