A SERIES of man-made hills are to be built on top of a former Lothians coal mine to test whether the land is stable enough to hold hundreds of new homes.
The site of the old open cast mine at Blindwells, near Tranent, in East Lothian, has been earmarked for the building of 1600 new homes, with new facilities, possibly including shops and schools.
But there are doubts about whether the mine, which has been filled in and turned over to farming, will be strong enough to support so much development.
In order to find out, a series of mounds of earth are to be built on the fields.
The mounds, up to ten metres high, will put the ground under greater pressure than any future development would. They will stay in place for six to eight months to see how the land responds.
East Lothian's housing leader, councillor Stuart Currie, said the local authority was keen to ensure the land was available to housebuilders as soon as any was ready to press ahead with new projects.
"East Lothian Council is very keen on the development because a percentage of these houses will be affordable, so the quicker we can move on these the better," he said. "East Lothian has a huge shortfall in affordable housing."
The development is currently being driven by Scottish Resources Group Ltd, the parent company of Scottish Coal, which still owns the land.
A Scottish Coal spokesman said: "This work is part of the preliminary work that we are undertaking, which will eventually allow us to submit an outline planning application for the site.
"We are mindful of the economic situation, but we do not believe that this will in any way prevent us from delivering an imaginative and vibrant new community at Blindwells."
There are concerns, though, that the new development could turn Tranent into a "ghost town".
Robert McNeill, of Tranent and Elphinstone Community Council, said: "We were in favour of the Blindwells development because Tranent had reached saturation point with new houses.
"The only concerns that we would have are with regard to possible retail outlets that would come along with Blindwells. Tranent is slowly becoming a ghost town so when it goes ahead, will that bring with it new retail units? If that does happen, it would create concern for retailers in Tranent."