Development Management: January 2022 Update

The past six months have been relatively quiet on the planning front in the Scottish Borders. Most of the applications received in the second half of 2021, some 700 in number, as in the first six months related to the erection of single dwellinghouses and alterations and extensions to dwellinghouses, and works to trees.  The majority of the applications received have been dealt with under delegated powers by the Chief Planning Officer and his staff.  The Planning and Building Standards Committee, in fact, met only four times in the past six months and dealt with five applications, the most noteworthy being the approval of an application to extend the life of the Lurgiescleuch (Pine Burn) Wind Farm, south-west of Hawick from 25 to 40 years. The Local Review Board met five times between August and December 2021 and dealt with some 10 appeals, five of which were upheld, with the Chief Planning Officer’s decision reversed and planning permission granted.

I’ve been looking back over the past three years at the trend in applications received and decided. In 2019, prior to the COVID Pandemic, some 1600 applications were received by the planning department and 1550 applications were decided [one would expect the number of applications received and the decisions made to be evenly balanced but, of course, some applications received are withdrawn before a decision can be made]. In 2020, the number of applications received fell to a little over 1350, as the Pandemic took hold, and the number decided was below 1200, indicating a backlog of applications to be decided. In 2021, the number of applications received bounced back to 1650 applications [even though the Pandemic persisted], but with less than 1400 applications decided, the backlog continues to grow

. As of 31 January, national guidance around working from home has been relaxed enabling a phased return to offices. Surveys of normally office-based staff during the enforced home-working have established that the vast majority are very content with home-working and would like to continue, even when COVID-19 restrictions are eased. SBC does not envisage a notable increase in the number of staff returning to the offices in Newtown St. Boswells.  What this means for the Planning Department and access to officers by the public and applicants is unclear.

If you want to find out more about the applications received and the decisions made, check out the council’s Public Access Portal

In relation to appeals to Scottish Ministers, the appeal against an enforcement notice alleging the use of open amenity land as garden ground and the erection thereon of two sheds and a boundary fence, at 1 Broad Street, Eyemouth was dismissed and the enforcement notice upheld on 8 October 2021 (DPEA Ref: ENA-140-2016). The appeal against the refusal of listed building consent for replacement windows at Rowanside, The Row, Longformacus in Berwickshire was dismissed on 1 November 2021 (DPEA Ref: LBA-140-2006). The appeal against the refusal of the council to grant a Certificate of Lawful Use for the use of the property, Greenloaning at West Linton, for short stay commercial letting remains outstanding (DPEA Ref: CLUD-140-2004 & SBC Ref: 21/00958/CLPU). 

An application for consent under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 for a windfarm comprising 45 turbines on land west of Castleweary, south of Hawick, called Faw Side Wind Farm has yet to be decided. A Pre-examination Meeting [virtual] is programmed for 23 February to discuss the timetable for a public inquiry into objections to the proposal.  The majority of the proposed windfarm is within Dumfries and Galloway Council area and the proposed wind farm has prompted widespread opposition from both Scottish Borders Council and Dumfries & Galloway Council and a number of organisations. Interestingly, the Scottish Government published a draft Onshore Wind Policy Statement in October 2021, designed to meet its plans to more than double Scotland’s onshore wind capacity by 2030.  According to Michael Matheson, the ‘Net Zero and Energy Secretary’ onshore wind is one of the most cost-effective forms of large-scale electricity generation and is vital to Scotland’s future energy mix. There is a clear expectation that the region will deliver further capacity through the re-powering of existing sites and/or new windfarms. Many of the most acceptable/appropriate sites have been developed and there are landscape capacity concerns in relation to large areas of the Borders. This document was considered by SBC at its meeting in January 2022 when a comprehensive response was agreed. Reading the response, it is not immediately clear where the council stands on the prospect of larger and/or more wind turbines in the region other than the principle ‘of the right development in the right place’; that the environmental and landscape qualities of the Borders should not be adversely prejudiced.  I await the results of the Scottish Government’s consultation on onshore wind energy with interest.

On the development planning front, all has been quiet since the publication of the Proposed Local Development Plan in the Autumn of 2020. The period for representations on the Proposed LDP ran to 25 January 2021 [a year ago], since when nothing has been heard. Normally, one would have expected arrangements to have been made by now for the holding of a public examination [inquiry] to allow unresolved representations [objections] to be considered by an independent Reporter from the Scottish Government’s Directorate for Planning and Environmental appeals. Apparently, in excess of 1000 responses were received, testament to the interest in planning in the region [also perhaps a reflection of the dis-satisfaction with certain proposals]. In November 2021, the council published its updated Development Plan Scheme which suggests that the Examination of the Proposed LDP could now be held in the Spring/Summer of 2022, with any proposed modifications resulting from the Examination published during the Winter of 2022, following which the LDP would be adopted in early 2023 [another year’s time].

Scottish Planning Policy states that the Planning Service should be plan-led with plans being up-to-date and relevant. The present Local Development Plan was adopted in May 2016, based on information obtained in 2012 and an Examination in November 2014. The housing element of the LDP adopted in May 2016 was modified in November 2017, on the instructions of the Scottish Ministers, through the preparation of Supplementary Guidance on Housing, which allocated additional land for housing. Is this LDP still up-to-date and relevant? Furthermore, given all that has happened over the past couple of years, including a stand-still in house construction and the latent demand for new housing as evidenced by rising house prices, one wonders whether the new LDP prepared in 2018/2019 will need further revision before it is adopted.