County Planning in the 1940s and 50s: Roxburghshire County Council

Roxburghshire County Council established its Planning Advisory Committee in February 1944 to deal with the first applications for planning permission under the Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) (Scotland) Act 1943.  The Duke of Buccleuch was elected its first Chairman, with the committee advised by the County Clerk and County Architect.  John A.W. Grant, Architect/Planner of Edinburgh was engaged to prepare a planning scheme for the county.  Under the 1943 Act, the Department of Health expected planning applications to be dealt with within 14 days; there was no such thing as neighbour notification or public consultation of any kind, except that town councils (Hawick, Jedburgh and Kelso) were consulted on applications within their areas.  During the 1940s, large-scale housing schemes proposed by the town councils, such as at Silverbuthall and Burnfoot in Hawick and at Headrig in Jedburgh, were approved with little fuss, and with little planning advice other than that obtained from the County Surveyor, County Architect and County Sanitary Inspector.

A major issue for Roxburgh County Council was the future of the Charlesfield Bomb Factory site, near St. Boswells, built in 1942.  It was one of only two factories in Britain producing incendiary bombs and at its peak employed 1,300 people and produced over 1 million bombs a month.  Production ceased in 1945 and it became a Royal Navy Armaments Depot to store small arms and guns.  In 1947, it still employed over 170 male workers but both the Hawick and Galashiels Trades Councils were concerned about its future and campaigned to secure it as an industrial site.  However, it continued to be used as a storage, maintenance and repair facility for the Admiralty, employing about 100 workers (male and female), until the 1960s.

The Regional Survey and Plan for Central and South-East Scotland prepared by Sir Frank Mears, and published in 1946, recommended the establishment of a joint committee of local authorities based in a new regional hub at St. Boswells/Newtown St. Boswells where offices, a new hospital, an agricultural college, student accommodation and housing would be developed.  Industrial development would be concentrated in the existing burghs but the Charlesfield munitions depot was identified as a potential site for an assembly plant for the hundreds of pre-fabricated houses required after the war.  However, the idea of a regional centre at Newtown St. Boswells did not go down well with the four Border county councils; it was considered that the centralisation of authority in one location did not take due account of the historic pattern of development in the Scottish Borders and local politics.

Nevertheless, following the enactment of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1947, which introduced wide-ranging planning powers to control development, including the requirement to prepare development plans, discussions were held between the four Border county councils regarding the co-ordination of town and country planning across the region.  Although Peeblesshire County Council did not consider there would be any benefit to its area from such co-ordination, Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire and Berwickshire County Councils decided to form a joint planning advisory committee for such purpose and in July 1947 approached architect/planner F.W.B. Charles, who had been the lead professional in the Central and South-East Scotland Study, to explore the practicalities of preparing a joint development plan for the three counties.  However, after providing estimated costs for his appointment to prepare a development plan for the three counties, and further deliberation on the practicalities of employing a consultant, the joint planning advisory committee, on the recommendation of the three county clerks, decided in October 1947 not to proceed with a joint development plan.  The reason provided in the minutes is the progress that had been made by Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire County Councils on the preparatory surveys of their areas, although it has to be said that the progress made by these two councils was not exceptional.  Indeed, work on the survey of Roxburghshire County continued throughout the next two years and it was December 1949 before an interim survey report was produced by John A.W. Grant.

At the end of 1949, Roxburghshire County Council still had no planning staff of its own, advice on planning applications being provided by the County Architect.  John A.W. Grant was engaged to prepare the development plan.  However, progress was slow; much time was spent on up-dating the out-dated 1:2500 scale OS Maps for the burghs (1921 editions for Hawick, Jedburgh and Kelso).  The 1947 Act required planning authorities to prepare a development plan within 3 years of the commencement date, 1 July 1948, and in 1951 the Department of Health for Scotland suggested that the council should employ its own planning staff but the council was not persuaded.  However, as the years passed by and the Planning Advisory Committee became increasingly dis-satisfied with progress on the development plan, the council decided in October 1952 to appoint additional staff in the County Architects Department to assist with the preparation of the development plan.  The services of John A.W. Grant were dispensed with.

The County Architect, Alastair M. Milne, was appointed County Architect and Planning Officer in March 1953 and the Planning Advisory Committee was re-named the Planning Committee.  George B. Ovens, who would rise to become Depute County Planning Officer in 1968 and would be appointed Depute Director of Planning and Development for the Borders Regional Council in 1975, was poached from Selkirkshire County Council and was appointed Town Planning Draughtsman.  In November 1953, a planning assistant was appointed to provide further assistance with development control matters.

During the 1950s, there was a proliferation of advertisements, on hotels, public houses, garages and petrol filling stations, and advanced signs in the countryside.  The council designated the whole of the county as an Area of Special Control for Advertisements, except for the burgh of Hawick, parts of the burghs of Jedburgh and Kelso and parts of Melrose, Lilliesleaf, Newstead and St. Boswells.  The Committee agreed to the retention of advanced signs such as that for the Peebles Hydro located on the A68 at Newtown St. Boswells (one of a number of such signs sited throughout the Borders area) but requested the removal of others, such as a similar sign advertising the Peebles Hydro on the A68 south of Jedburgh and signs for the Dryburgh Abbey Hotel on the A68.  Mindful of the growing attraction of caravanning and camping, caravan sites were granted planning permission on the A68 south of Jedburgh and on the A7 south of Teviothead and north of Galashiels; planning permission was granted for a motel and petrol filling station on the A7 at Groundistone Heights between Ashkirk and Hawick (which was never implemented).

Extensive consultations and discussions took place with the town councils over various allocations and proposals for Hawick, Jedburgh and Kelso, and it would be May 1957 before a draft development plan comprising the Survey Report and Written Statement, County Map, Town Maps for Hawick, Jedburgh, Kelso, Melrose, Newtown St. Boswells and St. Boswells, and a Programme Map, was completed and submitted to the Department of Health for Scotland for informal comments.

The development plan was based on an estimated county population of 44,560 in 1972, a decrease of about 1,000 persons on the 1951 Census figure.  Clearly, the county council was not optimistic about the future.  No definite industrial proposals were included in the Plan other than in Jedburgh, where the collapse of the rayon industry in 1956 had resulted in the loss of some 500 jobs.  The policy on residential development was concentrated on replacing over-crowded and unfit houses and meeting general needs through local authority housing.  Road proposals dominated with major road improvements proposed for the A7 and A68 trunk roads and improvements to the A698.  Road widening schemes in Hawick, Kelso and Melrose required the demolition of large numbers of properties and major changes to the historic street patterns in these towns that would cause consternation in later years and would be dropped from subsequent development plans.

It would be December 1961, partly due to the delay in the response from the Department of Health on the draft development plan, before the finalised development plan was submitted to the Secretary of State; the last of the four county development plans in the Scottish Borders to be prepared.  The next post on planning in Roxburghshire will examine the approved development plan in some detail and will also look at the impact of the Government’s White Paper on the Scottish Economy 1965-1970 and the subsequent Central Borders Study: A Plan for Expansion, published in 1968.

 

Author: douglas hope

Over fifty years experience in town and country planning, including twenty-one years with the Borders Regional Council (1975-1996) and twenty years with the Scottish Government as a Reporter for the Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals.