Development Planning Update: June 2020

Scottish Borders Council’s Development Plan Scheme, approved in March 2019, indicates that the Proposed Local Development Plan (LDP2) would be published towards the end of 2019 with formal consultation during the winter of 2019/2020.  According to the Council’s website, the Proposed LDP2 has been produced and was due to be presented to the full Council meeting in March for approval and then distributed for formal public consultation.  The intervention of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown has meant that all Council meetings have been cancelled, although meetings of the Planning and Building Standards Committee and the Local Review Body have been convened remotely in May 2020.  Furthermore, the normal statutory public consultations would be extremely difficult whilst meeting the Government’s social distancing requirements.  Consideration is therefore being given to when it is appropriate and safe to carry out the proposed public exhibitions across the Scottish Borders.  The next meeting of the full Council is programmed for 25 June 2020 and this might provide some information on the future of LDP2.

The Coronavirus pandemic is certainly proving challenging for planning and development in the Scottish Borders.  As elsewhere, it has had a profound effect on the lives of those who live and work here.  The concerns about the impact of Covid-19 on the economy, which was just starting to rebound after years of austerity, and particularly the effect on retailing, business and industry has been well documented.  In the Scottish Borders, the town centres of Galashiels and Hawick, the main towns in the area, were already suffering from shop closures resulting in empty premises and declining footfall.  Attempts to find alternative uses for town centre retail properties have proved somewhat fruitless.  Perhaps more drastic action will be required.

Tourism, a mainstay of the Scottish Borders economy has been badly hit.  Hotels, pubs and cafes have been closed for two months and are likely to remain so for some time yet.  A wide range of tourism and leisure facilities have been similarly affected.  Whilst the range of shops allowed to open is likely to widen in the near future, social distancing restrictions are likely to prove difficult to achieve in pubs and cafes.  Some tourism facilities may never re-open.  In the Scottish Borders, the Waverley Castle Hotel has closed following the collapse of travel company Specialist Leisure Group.  Although local politicians will try their best, will it ever re-open as a hotel?  Who is likely to take it on in the present climate?  We now hear that the company that owns Crieff Hydro Hotel chain, which includes the Peebles Hydro, is to make a number of staff redundant.  Can the Peebles Hydro survive!

The future of business in the Scottish Borders is uncertain.  Ove Energy in Selkirk closed earlier in May, scrapping their Ettrick Riverside office, leaving 380 staff facing an uncertain future.  Now, Mainetti has intimated that it is to close its clothes hanger factory in Jedburgh and move all production to its other facility in North Wales; 96 jobs are at risk at the Oxnam Road factory.  Mainetti arrived in Jedburgh in 1974 as a result of the efforts of the previous Roxburgh County Council and Jedburgh Town Council to attract industry to the area.  Mainetti became one of the largest employers in the region, manufacturing 100m hangers a year.  A double blow for Jedburgh is the announcement by L. S. Starrett of the closure of its factory on Oxnam Road, Jedburgh, with 100 jobs at risk.  L. S. Starrett arrived in Jedburgh in 1958, as a result of the initiative of Jedburgh Town Council.  It came at a time when the economy of the town was suffering from the closure of the North British Rayon Factory.  Although other firms have been attracted to Jedburgh in the intervening years, Mainetti and L. S. Starrett have been the prime employers in the town.  Their loss will pose a significant challenge for Scottish Borders Council and the Scottish Government.  It will also test the resolve of the newly-formed South of Scotland Enterprise.

Any economic recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic is going to be a costly affair, on top of the billions of pounds spent during the pandemic to support businesses and protect jobs.  Many billions of pounds will have been borrowed from the financial markets to fund this support and it will have to be paid back, probably over many decades.  Tough choices will have to be made.  Some are querying whether the extension of the Borders Railway all the way to Carlisle is a realistic objective.  Extending the line to Hawick would add about 17 miles to the existing 30 miles of track.  Continuation to Carlisle would require an additional 50 miles of track.  Local politicians have re-affirmed their support for the revival of the whole route but what other projects may have to be shelved and for how long.

The purpose of the Local Development Plan is to set out the council’s vision for development and transportation within the Scottish Borders.  The long-term impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the economy, whether it be house-building, industry, retailing and other services or tourism, has yet to be determined.  Assumptions and projections made before the pandemic may no longer be tenable and a radical re-appraisal of future planning and development objectives may be required.  Will the Scottish Borders Council take the opportunity to re-examine its vision for the Scottish Borders in the light of the new reality or simply hope that we can carry on as before?