Development Management: November 2018 update

During November 2018, the Scottish Borders Council received some 130 applications for planning permission and other consents, including listed building and conservation area consents and applications for works to protected trees.  Undoubtedly, the application which will catch most public attention is the application for a mixed use development including a hotel, restaurant with drive-thru facility, food retail store and petrol filling station with shop on a site at Tweedbank Industrial Estate (SBC Ref: 18/01520/FUL).  The site was previously acquired by B&Q but the planning application for a warehouse was never determined and was eventually withdrawn.  A supporting statement explains that the proposed “Borders Gateway” development includes a BP Filling Station and M&S Food Kiosk, Costa Coffee Drive Thru, Premier Inn with 71 beds and a discount food retail unit with 108 car spaces.  The site forms part of a much larger area zoned as a strategically important employment area and is outwith the area adjacent to the train station zoned for mixed uses in the local development plan, which has been suggested as a possible site for a hotel.  Whilst some organisations have welcomed the proposals, concerns have already been expressed by Galashiels Community Council about the effect of such a development on Galashiels town centre and on the prospects for a new hotel in Galashiels, for which a number of possible alternative sites have been identified.  With consultations on the new local development plan (LDP2) on-going, a decision on this application is likely to take some time and is likely to be controversial, whichever way it goes.  I am looking forward to hearing the debate when the matter, eventually, comes before the council’s Planning and Building Standards Committee for determination!

Elsewhere, opposition is mounting in Melrose to the proposal by Rural Renaissance Ltd for 26 dwellinghouses on land at The Croft, Dingleton Road (SBC Ref: 18/01385/FUL).  As predicted, this proposal has attracted a great deal of attention amongst the population of Melrose and almost 60 objections have been received.  Particular concerns relate to the suitability of Dingleton Road to accept traffic from additional housing development and to the impact of any development on the character and landscape value of the Eildon Hills.  This application will no doubt be another test for the Planning and Building Standards Committee.

Eildon Housing submitted a Proposal of Application Notice (PAN) for the redevelopment of the Earlston High School site for residential development on the 25 October (SBC Ref: 18/01493/PAN).  The community engagement event proposed for some time between the 15th and 30th November in Earlston Church Hall, is now to be held on 6 December (between 5.00pm and 8.00pm).

In Kelso, a Proposal of Application Notice (PAN) has been submitted by local builders M & J Ballantyne for alterations and conversion of the former Kelso High School to form extra care housing and the erection of private housing within the grounds (SBC Ref: 18/01574/PAN).  A public drop-in event was held on 22 November in the Assembly Room at the High School.  Any subsequent planning application cannot be submitted before 1 February 2019 and a pre-application consultation report will need to accompany the application detailing the results of the pre-application consultations, including the public event.

Back to the recurring issue of wind farms; another interesting application for the council’s Planning and Building Standards Committee will be the application by Energiekontor to vary conditions 2 & 4 of planning consent 17/00010/FUL for the Pines Burn Wind Farm sited south-west of Bonchester Bridge, which was granted planning permission on appeal by the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA) in August 2018.  This application (SBC Ref: 18/01443/FUL) requests that the micro-siting distance for turbines from the position shown on the approved plans be increased to 100m and that the tip height of five of the turbines be increased to 149.9m.  Having refused planning permission for the development, it will be interesting to see the attitude of the Planning and Building Standards Committee to these proposed deviations from the plans approved by Scottish Ministers.

Another wind farm case that will require to be considered by the Planning and Building Standards Committee is the application by Energiekontor to vary conditions 1, 3, 4 & 14 of planning permission 13/00789/FUL for the Braidlie Wind Farm, near the Hermitage Valley south of Hawick, which was also granted planning permission on appeal by the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division in June 2016.  This application (SBC Ref: 18/01456/FUL) requests an extension of time to initiate development, an increase of the micro-siting allowance from 50m to 100m, an increase in tip height of six of the turbines to 149.9m and also requests a relaxation to allow the development to commence prior to the approval of the required ATC Radar Mitigation Scheme. Again, it will interesting to see the attitude of the Planning and Building Standards Committee to these proposed deviations from the plans approved by Scottish Ministers.

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, some 130 applications have been determined by the Chief Planning Officer under delegated powers, ten of which have been refused planning permission.  Perhaps the most contentious is the application for the change of use of the Redburn Garage, located in a prominent position on the Peebles Road on the outskirts of Galashiels, to joiner’s workshop and showroom, caravan repairs and sales, car valet, retail and the siting of a catering unit (SBC Ref: 18/00723/FUL).  This is a retrospective application for the former Bruce Motors Garage and Showroom which has been in use for above uses for some time.  Whilst the Chief Planning Officer considered that some aspects of the development are acceptable, the application has been refused because of the retail and joiner’s workshop element of the development.

Elsewhere planning permission has been refused for: (i) the erection of a dwellinghouse on land at Tarf House, West Linton (SBC Ref: 18/01341/PPP); (ii) the erection of two dwellinghouses at Croupyett, Ancrum (SBC Ref: 18/01177/PPP); (iii) the erection of an extension to a dwellinghouse at Townhead Way, Newstead (SBC Ref: 18/01215/FUL); (iv) the erection of a storage shed at 17 Leithen Road, Innerleithen (SBC Ref: 18/01116/FUL); (v) the erection of 7 additional workshop units, including one to be used as a dog day-care facility together with exercise area at Farknowes, Langshaw Road, Galashiels (SBC Ref: 18/01229/FUL); (vi) the erection of a dwellinghouse at Old Graden, Kelso (SBC Ref: 18/01252/PPP); (vii) the erection of a dwellinghouse at Linthill, Lilliesleaf, by Melrose (SBC Ref: 18/01332/PPP); (viii) the erection of a dwellinghouse on Eddy Road, Newstead, Melrose (SBC Ref: 18/01060/FUL; and (ix) the change of use of the Mansfield Bar on Mansfield Road in Hawick to a residential flat (SBC Ref: 18/01330/FUL).  Since it seems to be the practice for applicants who are refused planning permission by the Chief Planning Officer under delegated powers to appeal the decision, the council’s Local Review Body is going to be busy in the coming months.

At its meeting on 5 November, the Planning and Building Standards Committee decided to continue consideration, pending a site visit, of the application for the redevelopment of the March Street Mills site in Peebles for residential units (SBC Ref: 17/00063/PPP).  This proposal, submitted almost two years ago after extensive pre-application consultation, has generated considerable opposition from Peebles residents and a wide range of other local organisations.  At the time of writing, the agent for the developer, Moorbrook Textiles Ltd, has intimated that they are not prepared to wait any longer for a decision from the council and have decided to submit an appeal to the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA) against the non-determination of the application.  It is interesting to see that in submitting the appeal rather than wait for a decision from the Planning and Building Standards Committee, the agents for the applicants indicate that the decision to appeal: “has been driven by the understanding of the appellant that the key determining issues and planning balance……are highly complex and emotive, such that they consider that placing the decision making in the hands of a Reporter acting on behalf of Scottish Ministers to be the appropriate action”.  Watch this space!

At its meeting on 19 November, the Local Review Body (LRB) reversed two decisions of its Chief Planning Officer to refuse planning permission for: (1) the erection of a dwellinghouse on land at Ladywood, Lower Greenhill, Selkirk (SBC Ref: 18/00929/PPP); and (2) the erection of a dwellinghouse at Chapel Cottage, Melrose (SBC Ref: 18/00644/PPP).  The LRB did support the decision of the Chief Planning Officer to refuse planning permission in respect of the erection of a further two dwellinghouses at Lower Greenhill, Selkirk (SBC Ref: 18/00832/PPP) and to refuse planning permission for the change of use of part of Unit 8 at Tweedside Park, Tweedbank (the former Plexus Facility) to form a gymnasium, children’s soft play area and associated café. (SBC Ref: 18/00635/FUL).  In this case, the LRB considered that the loss of business space, although limited, would undermine the aims of the council’s recently approved Supplementary Guidance for the Central Borders (Tweedbank) Business Park.  Will this decision have any impact in relation to the more recent proposal on the Tweedbank Industrial Estate referred to above!

During November, the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA) reached decisions on the appeals against the refusal of planning permission for: (1) the erection of a poultry building at Hutton Hall Barns, Hutton in Berwickshire (SBC Ref: 17/00623/FUL) (DPEA Ref: PPA-140-2065); and (2) the erection of a poultry building at Easter Happrew in the Manor Valley, west of Peebles (SBC Ref: 16/01377/FUL) (DPEA Ref: PPA-140-2062).  In both cases, the Reporter appointed to determine the appeal, reversed the decision of the council and granted planning permission for the proposals.  One appeal against the refusal of planning permission remains to be determined: for the erection of 7 wind turbines on land north-west of Gilston Farm, near Heriot (SBC Ref: 17/00226/FUL) (DPEA Ref: PPA-140-2068).

The Reporter’s report and recommendations have been submitted to Scottish Ministers for their decision in connection with the application by Eildon Housing Association for residential development at Huddersfield Street, Galashiels, which was called-in for determination by Scottish Ministers in view of the possible flood risk (SBC Ref: 17/00695/FUL) (DPEA Ref: NA-SBD-054).

The appeal against the serving of an enforcement notice by the council alleging that the use of land south and east of the property ‘Oaklands’ in Ednam village, near Kelso has been changed from agricultural land to garden ground without planning permission and that a variety of domestic structures have been erected/placed on the land (SBC Ref: 17/00131/UNDEV) (DPEA Ref: ENA-140-2012) remains to be determined.  The site inspection has been arranged for 6 December.  The appeal against the council’s refusal to issue a Certificate of Lawful Use, as a dwellinghouse, of a property used in the past as a guest house at Camptown, south of Jedburgh also remains to be determined.(SBC Ref: 18/00849/CLEU) (DPEA Ref: CLUD-140-2002).

Two new appeals have been submitted to the DPEA.  As expected an appeal has been submitted against the decision of the Planning and Building Standards Committee, at its meeting on 3 September, to refuse planning permission against the Chief Planning Officer’s recommendation, 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 (SBC Ref: 17/01255/FUL) (DPEA Ref: PPA-140-2072).  This is a revised proposal, following the withdrawal of concerns expressed by the Ministry of Defence over possible interference with radar at RAF Spadeadam in Cumbria and seismic monitoring at Eskdalemuir, near Langholm.  However, although the Chief Planning Officer recommended approval, the Committee decided on a vote of 5 votes to 2 to refuse the application on the grounds that the proposal would have significant and adverse impacts and effects on the landscape.  Representations on the appeal will be accepted by the DPEA until 21 December.

Whereas appeals against the refusal of planning permission by the Chief Planning Officer are referred to the council’s Local Review Body (LRB) for determination, appeals against the refusal of consent for works to trees by the council’s Tree Officer are a matter for the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA).  The council’s LRB has no locus in the matter (see my post on ‘Trees, woodlands and hedges’).  Although the council deals with over 100 tree works applications per year, very few are refused consent and appeals to the DPEA are rare.  In fact, only two such appeals appear on the DPEA website, one of which was withdrawn shortly after submission.  The second appeal, submitted on 15 November, relates to the refusal of Tree Works Consent for the removal of a mature copper beech tree at 22 Craigmyle Park, Clovenfords, near Galashiels (SBC Ref: 18/01057/TPO) (DPEA Ref: TWCA-140-2).  The appeal will be determined by a Reporter appointed by the DPEA through consideration of the written submissions from the council and the appellant and a site inspection.

Three wind farm applications submitted to the Scottish Government under Section 36 of the 1989 Act, to which the Scottish Borders Council has objected, remain outstanding: (1) the application for a 12 turbine extension to the existing Fallago Rig wind farm in the Lammermuir Hills; (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); and (3) an application for the erection of 15 wind turbines on land at Birneyknowe, near Bonchester Bridge, south-east of Hawick (DPEA case reference WIN-140-7).  The Reporter’s reports in relation to these three applications have been submitted to Scottish Ministers and their decision is awaited.

Protected trees and woodlands, and high hedge legislation

Of the 1500 applications received by Scottish Borders Council during 2017, 110 related to “Works to trees”.  None of these applications were refused.  To date (end of May 2018), some 52 applications for “Works to trees” have been received by SBC.  An application for works to protected trees is required where it is proposed to fell, top, lop, uproot or otherwise damage or destroy any tree to which a tree preservation order relates, any tree located within a conservation area that has a trunk diameter of more than 75mm (3 inches) when measured at 1.5m (5ft) above ground level and any tree that is protected through a condition attached to a planning permission.

There are some 60 approved Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) within the Scottish Borders Council area, many dating back to the 1970s.  They include individual trees, groups of trees and woodlands spread throughout the area.  Details of TPOs are available from the Tree Officer in the Planning and Building Standards Department.  There are currently some 43 Conservation Areas designated within the Scottish Borders.  The boundaries of these Conservation Areas are shown on the Local Development Plan Proposals Maps for the relevant settlement.  Under Section 172 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997, anyone proposing to cut down or carry out work on a tree in a conservation area is required to give the planning authority six weeks prior notice.  The purpose of this requirement is to give the planning authority an opportunity to consider whether a TPO should be made in respect of the tree.

Planning Circular 1/2011, published in February 2011 sets out Scottish Government Policy on TPOs and trees in conservation areas.  The Town and Country Planning (Tree Preservation Order and Trees in Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Regulations 2010 state that an application for consent to works to a tree or trees protected by a TPO must specify the operations for which consent is sought; provide reasons for the operations; and identify the protected tree or trees by means of a map or plan of a size and scale sufficient for the purpose.  The planning authority should keep a register of all applications for consent and the decisions made.  Where a planning authority refuses consent or grants consent subject to conditions, the applicant may appeal to the Scottish Ministers within 3 months of the council’s decision.  Works to Trees applications can be made by the owner of the trees or any other person as long as the owner is notified of the application.  Unlike planning applications, there is no requirement to notify owners and occupiers of neighbouring land.  Works to trees applications require an application form and a plan which clearly identifies the trees affected by the application.  The application form should set out clearly what is proposed, whether it be felling, removing or reducing some branches or reducing the crown, and any proposals for replacement planting.  The reasons for the application should also be fully explained, preferably with the support of professional advice from an arborist or tree surgeon.

The council can only consider the impact of the work on the amenity value of the tree(s) or woodland and whether the work is justified.  There is no legal requirement for the council to consult on tree applications.  Details of “Works to trees” applications are included in the weekly list of planning applications on the council’s Public Access Portal but comments are not invited.  Decisions are made by the Tree Officer following a site visit.  Scrutiny of the applications received in 2018, so far, shows a tremendous variation in the quality of the submissions.  In many cases, there is no application form just a letter requesting permission; in some cases a photograph simply identifies the tree to which the application relates, and in many cases the reasons for the application are somewhat cursory.  Only in a small number of cases is the application accompanied by a report produced by a professional.

A report commissioned by the Scottish Executive [now the Scottish Government] to examine the effectiveness of the TPO system in Scotland, published in 2002*, concluded that the management of many TPO sites was either non-existent or to a very low standard through a combination of lack of knowledge, finance and commitment to the maintenance of protected trees.  With regard to procedures and technical standards, the report considered that there was a distinct lack of up-to-date government advice on TPOs.  The lack of an accurate consistent local authority database meant that there was no complete picture of the extent and nature of TPOs across Scotland.  It was recommended that all councils needed to update their records.  The report also identified that there was an uneven pattern in the way that councils applied the provisions of the 1997 Planning Act and linked regulations and a lack of adequate monitoring of changes to TPOs.  Little has changed since 2002.

*Roger Jessop; The Effectiveness of Tree Preservation Orders in Scotland, Scottish Executive Social Research, 2002 [ISBN 0950 2254; ISBN 0 7559 3439 3]

A relatively new provision is the High Hedges (Scotland) Act 2013, which came into force on 1 April 2014.  This Act was introduced in response to the increasing problem of high boundary hedges (the most notorious being leylandii) which harmed the enjoyment of a neighbour’s property (house and/or garden), normally as a result of the loss of light.  Unlike boundary fences or walls that require planning permission if they exceed two metres in height, there is no such restriction on planting trees or shrubs to form a hedge.  A ‘high hedge’ is defined in the Act as one which is “wholly or mainly formed by a row of two or more trees or shrubs which is over 2 metres in height and forms a barrier to light”.  An application for a ‘High Hedge Notice’ can be made by the owner and/or occupier of the affected property.  A potential applicant must have made efforts to resolve the issue with the neighbour themselves before an application is made.  An application received by the planning authority where there is no evidence of this having been attempted must be rejected.

In dealing with such applications, the planning authority must notify the owner and occupier of the land on which the offending hedge is situated and invite comments, which must be submitted within 28 days.  There is no requirement, however, to publicise high hedge applications.  The planning authority must visit the site and then decide “Whether the height of the hedge adversely affects the enjoyment of the domestic property which an occupant of that property could reasonably expect to have”.  If the planning authority considers that the hedge has little adverse effect it can decide to take no action.  If the planning authority decides that the hedge is having an adverse impact, it can issue a High Hedge Notice which sets out what the hedge owner must do to remedy the harm caused by the high hedge; this usually involves reducing the height of the hedge to 2 metres but could require other measures to be taken.  The act allows the applicant to appeal to Scottish Ministers against the decision of the planning authority not to issue a High Hedge Notice or if they consider that the works required by the High Hedge Notice do not go far enough.  The owner or occupier of the land on which the hedge is located can appeal if they think that a High Hedge Notice should not have been issued; if they consider that the works required by the Notice go too far or the council has not given them enough time to carry out the works.

Although there was a flurry of high hedge applications, nationally, when the Act came into force in 2014 (when there were over 120 applications), the number has decreased across Scotland since 2014.  In the Scottish Borders, there have only been three applications, one in 2014, one in 2015 and one in 2016.  In the first case, a High Hedge Notice was issued and complied with; and, in the second case, the council decided not to issue a Notice.  The third application (SBC Ref: 16/01092/HH), submitted in September 2016, would appear to remain undecided.  One wonders whether Scottish Borders residents are fully aware of the legislation on high hedges introduced by the Scottish Government in 2014 or whether, perhaps, this problem is more concentrated in the urban areas of the Central Belt and the North East, areas that saw considerable housing development in the 1970s and 1980s.  Explanatory guidance on applying for a high hedge notice is available from the Scottish Government and can also be accessed on the Scottish Borders Council Public Access Portal.