Development Management: December 2019 Update

During December 2019, the Scottish Borders Council received some 100 applications for planning permission and other consents, including listed building and conservation area consents and applications for works to protected trees.  The vast majority related to the erection of single dwellinghouses and alterations and extensions to dwellinghouses.

Wind farm applications still catch the eye.  On 23 December, an application was received for a Screening Opinion on the necessity for an Environmental Impact Assessment of a proposal to extend the operational life of the Dun Law Wind Farm, near Oxton, for a further 12 years from 2022 to allow the joint decommissioning of the Dun Law Wind Farm with the Windfarm Extension, planning permission for which expires in 2034 (SBC Ref: 19/01820/SCR).  There seems every likelihood that the planning permission for the Dun Law Wind Farm will be extended and it will be interesting to see where we are with sustainable energy generation in 2034 and what the future holds for Dun Law beyond that date.  Will it ever return to open moorland?

An interesting proposal at Tweedbank comprises the erection of a factory for light industrial use by Cademuir Engineering of Selkirk, which is sited on a previously designated greenfield site forming part of the landscaped and planted strip between Tweedbank industrial estate and the A6091 (SBC Ref: 19/01761/SPZ).  This landscape strip, a segment of which has already been cleared close to the Darnlee roundabout for the proposed Premier Inn development, was a fundamental part of the original Tweedbank scheme but is gradually being eroded by development.  According to the Chief Planning Officer, the proposed development is of a type permitted by the designated Tweedbank Special Planning Zone.

In the small village of Oxton, north of Lauder, an application to change the use of the ground floor of the Tower Hotel to offices is causing a stir amongst locals (SBC Ref: 19/01727/FUL).  The hotel closed in May 2019 and the dining room, lounge and bar have been used as offices.  Apparently, the owner was not aware that planning permission for a change of use was required.  Refusal of planning permission would not, of itself, result in the return of the licenced premises to the village and it will be interesting to see how this matter develops.  Could the recently established community development company, which has established a community shop in the village following the closure of the village shop, do the same for the pub?

Check out the council’s Public Access Portal if you want to find out more about the above applications or any other application submitted in the past month.

During November, a similar number of applications were determined by the Chief Planning Officer under delegated powers.  Again, the vast majority related to the erection of single dwellinghouses or to alterations and extensions to dwellinghouses.  Perhaps the most eye-catching consent granted by the Chief Planning Officer under delegated powers is the amended proposal by Eildon Housing Association for the erection of 2 blocks of residential flats comprising 22 housing units at Dukehaugh, Peebles (SBC Ref: 19/01471/FUL).  Readers might remember that a proposal for 2 blocks comprising 40 units was refused planning permission by the Planning and Building Standards Committee on 4 February 2019 although the Chief Planning Officer had recommended approval.  The Chief Executive of Eildon Housing was most put-out at this decision and immediately lodged an appeal to the Scottish Ministers.  However, the Reporter appointed to consider the appeal, after considering all the evidence submitted for and against the proposal, dismissed the appeal on 23 July 2019 and refused to grant planning permission.  On dismissing the appeal, the Reporter considered that the proposal would have a detracting influence on the distinctive character and appearance of the Peebles riverside and appear incongruous on account of the incompatibility of the design and scale of the proposed buildings.

The amended proposal is for a reduced number of residential units and a storey has been removed from the two blocks.  The buildings are slimmer and set further back from the river.  The roof design is simpler with pitched roofs finished in slate.  Areas of stone cladding have been introduced.  Whilst the original scheme generated some 150 objections, the amended proposal has generated none. No third-party objections were received.  Accordingly, the Chief Planning Officer has granted planning permission without recourse to the Planning and Building Standards Committee even though the original scheme was decided by the committee and was the subject of an appeal.  Although there were no apparent objections to the amended proposal, some readers might find this somewhat surprising given the history of the site.

In Denholm, planning permission has been granted for the erection of 12 dwellinghouses at Jedward Terrace although objections were received from neighbouring householders and the community council (SBC Ref: 19/01135/FUL).  Notwithstanding the objections, the Chief Planning Officer considered that, although the site lies outwith the development boundary and the approval would set a degree of precedent, the proposed development was an ‘exceptional’ development comprising affordable housing.

Four applications were refused planning permission by the Chief Planning Officer under delegated powers in December: (i) an application for the erection of a dwellinghouse at Greenbraehead, Hawick (SBC Ref: 19/01533/FUL); (ii) the erection of a dwellinghouse at Dodlands, Hawick (SBC Ref: 19/01358/PPP); (iii) the demolition of a dwellinghouse and erection of two dwellinghouses at Benrig, Cuddyside, Peebles (SBC Ref: 19/00193/FUL); and (iv) the installation of replacement windows at 10 Exchange Street, Jedburgh (SBC Ref: 19/01091/FUL).

At its meeting on 9 December, the Planning and Building Standards Committee granted planning permission for the conversion of Hartree House, near Biggar on the western fringes of the region, into a hotel despite objections from neighbours (SBC Ref: 19/01116/FUL).  Previously a hotel, it closed almost 20 years ago, but has been a venue for weddings since 2016 and objectors cited inadequate access and water supply as reasons for refusing its re-use as a hotel.  Nevertheless, the Chief Planning Officer was satisfied with the proposal subject to confirmation that a satisfactory water supply could be provided, that a satisfactory drainage system was in operation, that satisfactory access and parking was provided and that measures were in place to ensure that noise from functions was kept to an acceptable minimum.  The Committee also gave their approval, subject to amended house designs for the houses fronting Bowmont Street, for the conversion and partial demolition of Kelso High School to provide 34 extra-care flats for the elderly and 47 affordable homes (SBC Ref: 19/01244/FUL).

The Local Review Body on 16 December considered three appeals against the Chief Planning Officer’s decision to refuse planning permission.  The LRB upheld the officer’s decision to refuse planning permission for the erection of a dwellinghouse at Maxton House, St. Boswells (SBC Ref: 19/01178/PPP) but reversed the Chief Planning Officer’s decision to refuse planning permission for the erection of a replacement dwellinghouse at Folly Cottage, Woodside Farm, Kelso and granted planning permission (SBC Ref: 19/00965/FUL).  The LRB upheld the Chief Planning Officer’s decision to restrict the height of a replacement boundary fence at 4 Lauder Road, Earlston to 1.2m (SBC Ref: 19/01018/FUL).

In a number of cases this past year, local communities have voiced concerns that the planning process administered by Scottish Borders Council fails to meet the expectations of its constituents.  This seems to be a recurring theme, whether it be related to inadequate neighbour notification, inadequate information about proposals or inadequate time for consultation and representations to be made.  Coincidentally, the January 2020 edition of the Royal Town Planning Institute’s Journal, The Planner, includes a report of the ninth RTPI Nathaniel Lichfield lecture by Professor Gavin Parker, Chair of Planning Studies at Henley Business School, University of Reading, which touches on the subject of enabling communities to become more involved in planning [Nathaniel Lichfield was an urban and environmental planner who played a key role in planning in the 1960s and died in 2009].  Dr. Gavin Parker, co-author of Enabling Participatory Planning, expressed the view that the planning system is alienating communities instead of supporting them and that reform is needed to ensure that communities are co-owners of the planning system.  Without such reform, trust in planning would continue to erode suiting the agenda of those who would prefer to remove the protections that planning offers communities.  He was speaking on the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Skeffington Report Planning and People [which I well remember] which paved the way for a radical change in public participation in planning.  Dr. Gavin Parker believes that many local authorities do the bare minimum to deliver participatory planning and that developers and their agents have mastered the art of giving the appearance of good consultation while manipulating the process to deliver what they want.  Readers might see something of this approach in their experience of the planning system.  According to Dr. Gavin Parker, a wide ranging review is needed of community participation in contemporary planning.  Whilst in Scotland, the Scottish Government may have gone some way to tackle this issue in the 2019 Planning Act, it remains to be seen whether the proposals in the Act, for increased local involvement in planning through, for instance, the preparation of Local Place Plans comes to fruition.  Watch this space.

In relation to appeals to the Scottish Government, after a lengthy and time-consuming process, the long-standing appeal submitted on 2 November 2018 against the refusal of planning permission for the construction of a wind farm comprising 7 turbines up to 132 metres high to tip height on land at Barrel Law, north west of Roberton was decided on 23 December 2019 (DPEA Ref: PPA-140-2072).  No doubt, much to the delight of the surrounding community, the Reporter has dismissed the appeal and decided to refuse planning permission for this contentious proposal.  The Reporter considered that, although in many respects the proposed development would be able to comply with the development plan and national guidance, the positive outcomes and potential economic benefits arising from the development were not sufficient to set aside the adverse environmental effects specifically relating to separate and cumulative visual and landscape effects and residential amenity effects at this location.

Two appeals remain outstanding: (i) the appeal against the erection of 7 wind turbines at Gilston Hill, near Heriot, which has been returned to the Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA) to re-determine following a successful challenge to the Court of Session to the Reporter’s decision, dated 7 February 2019, to approve the application (DPEA Ref: PPA-140-2068-1); and (ii) an appeal against the serving of an enforcement notice in respect of the erection of a 1.8m high fence on land at Silver Grange, Old Greenlaw Farm, Greenlaw in Berwickshire (DPEA Ref: ENA-140-2014).

Two wind farm applications submitted to the Scottish Government under Section 36 of the 1989 Act, to which the Scottish Borders Council has also objected, remain outstanding: (1) the application for a 12 turbine extension to the existing Fallago Rig wind farm in the Lammermuir Hills; and (2) the application to extend the operational life of the existing Fallago Rig wind farm to coincide with that of the extension (if approved) (DPEA case references WIN-140-5 & WIN-140-6).  The reports on these appeals have been with Scottish Ministers since July 2018.  Following the receipt of objections from Scottish Borders Council in April 2019, an inquiry is to be held in relation to an application for an expansion of the Crystal Rig Wind Farm in the Lammermuirs, comprising the addition of 11 turbines to the existing 90 turbines (DPEA Ref: WIN-140-8).  The Inquiry will take place at the Volunteer Hall, Duns, commencing at 10.00am on Tuesday 10 March 2020.

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.

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