The first case of Coronavirus (Covid-19) in Scotland was confirmed on 1 March within Tayside NHS Area. Coronavirus arrived in the Scottish Borders a few days later and lock-down commenced on 24 March. Not surprisingly, planning activity has been somewhat limited thereafter with construction work in abeyance and architects, planning consultants and tradesmen at home protecting their families.
The council’s Planning Department is now closed to the public until further notice and case officers are working remotely from home. The council is requesting that all applications are made online. Nevertheless, new planning applications continue to be registered and are being processed in as normal a way as possible; applications continue to be publicised on the council’s website and in the local press. However, site visits are not being undertaken. Decisions on applications may, therefore, inevitably take longer. Due to the social distancing requirements, meetings are not possible and the only way to obtain advice and guidance on a proposal or an application is through electronic communication.
The Planning and Building Standards Committee met on 2 March and the Local Review Body on 16 March but all future meetings have been cancelled until further notice. Major applications and those that attract five or more objections are required to be decided by the Planning and Building Standards Committee under the council’s scheme of delegation, so it is likely that decisions on such applications will be delayed until the emergency is over or the council comes up with an alternative mechanism. Appeals against decisions of the Chief Planning Officer under delegated powers, considered by the Local Review Body, will be similarly delayed.
During March 2020, Scottish Borders Council received some 90 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. In Galashiels, an application for a Certificate of Lawful Use for the former tennis courts on Abbotsford Road [last used in 1996] for the development of 8 houses has been submitted by J. S. Crawford asserting that development authorised by a planning permission granted in February 1996 has commenced on this site (SBC Ref: 20/00345/CLPU). In Melrose, an application has been received for the demolition of the former Congregational Church, previously used as council offices, at West Grove on Waverley Road and the erection of 14 apartments (SBC Ref: 20/00331/FUL). In Peebles, an application for the erection of seven dwellinghouses on land at The Lodge, Kingsmeadows House, Kingsmeadows Road has generated a great deal of opposition, which has prompted the council’s Chief Planning Officer to request that the application be withdrawn in the light of the fundamental concerns raised in the objections (SBC Ref: 20/00275/FUL). The only non-residential development of particular note relates to an application for a fifth poultry shed for egg production at Hutton Hall Barns, Berwickshire, to house up to 32,000 birds, which indicates that some sectors of the economy continue to expand (SBC Ref: 20/00347/FUL).
During March, 94 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. Three applications were refused planning permission by the Chief Planning Officer under delegated powers in March: (i) an application for the erection of a dwellinghouse at Tarf House, Cardrona, Peeblesshire (SBC Ref: 20/00051/PPP); (ii) an application for the erection of a dwellinghouse at West Mains, Carlops, Peeblesshire (SBC Ref: 19/01701/PPP); and (iii) an application for the erection of two dwellinghouses at Quarry Bank, Hume, Berwickshire (SBC Ref: 19/01432/PPP).
At its meeting on 3 March, the Planning and Building Standards Committee approved two applications: (i) for residential development on Ettrickhaugh Road, Selkirk (SBC Ref: 19/01687/PPP); and (ii) for the conversion of part of the former Peter Scott factory on Buccleuch Street Hawick to form 10 flats (SBC Ref: 19/01813/FUL & 19/01812/LBC). The approval of the proposed development of six houses on a 1.8 acre site on Ettrickhaugh Road, Selkirk is subject to the approval of Scottish Ministers because of an objection from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency in relation to the potential for flooding. Officers employed by the council are happy that the site is suitably protected by the recently completed flood protection scheme and it will be interesting to see how Scottish Ministers deal with this appeal.
The Local Review Body (LRB) on 16 March considered two appeals against the Chief Planning Officer’s decision to refuse planning permission for (i) the erection of two dwellinghouses in garden ground at 7 Heriot House, Heriot (SBC Ref: 18/01777/FUL); and (ii) the erection of a dwellinghouse at Town O’Rule, Bonchester bridge (SBC Ref: 18/01194/FUL). In both cases, the LRB decided to continue the appeals for further consideration. When these cases will be reconsidered is now a matter for conjecture, bearing in mind the cancellation of future meetings of the LRB for an indefinite period.
No appeals to Scottish Ministers remain outstanding. 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 to be determined: (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, a hearing was held on 10 March 2020 in Duns 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). In light of the current COVID-19 restrictions, the Reporters have been unable to conduct the inspection of the site and viewpoints and they will be unable to conclude their report until these site inspections have been carried out. In the meantime, parties have been requested to submit their final observations and closing submissions.