Tweedbank Development Update: January 2019

Some fifty years after the idea of a new village at Tweedbank, near Galashiels, was first raised, the final piece of the jigsaw has been put in place with the acquisition by Scottish Borders Council, on 6 December 2018, of the remaining part of Lowood Estate.  The area acquired extends to some 45 hectares (110 acres) between the Waverley railway line and the River Tweed.  The area is identified for a mix of residential and business development in the adopted local development plan.  The Tweedbank Masterplan prepared by Proctor Matthews Architects, considered by the council in January 2018, identifies the potential for some 300 houses and land for new business development.  This Masterplan will be taken forward in the new local development plan LDP2.  Although this purchase has been described as a bold development by the council’s Executive Member for Business and Development, maximising the benefits of the Borders Railway and creating hundreds of jobs, some councillors consider that the cost of the purchase (£9.6m) is a speculative and risky use of public money when budgets are constrained.  According to the council’s Executive Director, the Lowood project could cost £90m, including the cost of the purchase of the land, but it could potentially generate £150m of Gross Value Added (GVA).  It is estimated that 179 jobs could be created with a maximum of 173 construction jobs.  The overall Tweedbank Masterplan, which includes the refurbishment of the existing Tweedbank Industrial Estate, could cost £203m but would potentially generate £1.3b of GVA and create some 1,400 jobs.  It is considered that development on this scale is unlikely to be delivered without a comprehensive approach and public-sector pump priming; echoes of the philosophy behind the foundation of a new village at Tweedbank.

The idea for a new village at Tweedbank emerged in the mid-1960s.  The 1966 White Paper on the Scottish Economy 1965-1970 set out proposals to expand the economy of Scotland by providing new jobs and reducing the net loss of population experienced over the previous decades.  In relation to the Scottish Borders, the White Paper proposed that within the catchment area of Galashiels (a radius of 15 miles), which had a population of 73,000 persons in 1966, there should be a substantial and integrated programme of housing and new industry, the objective being to establish self-sustaining population growth.  A population increase of some 25,000 people over the succeeding 10-15 years (up to 1981) was proposed for the area comprising the three counties of Peeblesshire, Selkirkshire and Roxburghshire, excluding Kelso & District.

Professors Johnson-Marshall and Wolfe of Edinburgh University were appointed to prepare a plan for the increase in population of 25,000 people within the Galashiels Catchment Area.  Their report “The Central Borders: A Plan for Expansion”, commonly referred to as “The Central Borders Plan”, was published in two volumes in 1968.  The Central Borders Plan envisaged a “regional city” with the main settlements; Galashiels, Selkirk, Hawick and Jedburgh, sharing facilities and amenities.  In addition to the land allocated for housing in the main settlements in the existing County Development Plans, which could accommodate an additional 5,000 people, the Central Borders Plan incorporated a proposed new village at Tweedbank, where a population of 4,400 people was planned, and identified Newtown St. Boswells, which at the time had good road AND rail connections, as the location for a major settlement of some 10,000 population.

Excluding commitments in the existing County Development Plans, housing land for only an additional 1,700 people (out of the total of 25,000) was identified for Hawick, Selkirk and Jedburgh in the Central Borders Plan.  Not surprisingly, there was a strong body of opinion in Selkirkshire and Roxburghshire against the proposed expansion of Newtown St. Boswells.  Neither County Council showed any enthusiasm for major development at Newtown.  Selkirkshire County Council wanted to see more development in Galashiels and Selkirk, and Roxburgh County Council favoured a more modest increase of 3,000 people at Newtown St. Boswells with an enlarged share for Hawick and Jedburgh.

However, plans for Tweedbank were progressed; an amendment to the Roxburghshire County Development Plan was prepared in 1968 encompassing almost 300 acres of land, 190 acres of which was in the ownership of Lowood Estate (Mrs Constance Hamilton).  This amendment allocated land for housing and industry, playing fields, amenity open space and woodland and a new principal traffic route between Darnick and the A7 at Kingsknowes involving a new bridge over the Tweed.  As a result of objections from Mrs Constance Hamilton and others, public inquiries were held in December 1968 and March 1969.  The amendment to the county development plan was eventually approved by the Secretary of State in September 1969, following which a Masterplan for the development of approximately 1000 houses was prepared by the Scottish Special Housing Association (SSHA).

Land owned by five of the six owners was acquired voluntarily but Mrs Constance Hamilton declined to negotiate and a Compulsory Purchase Order was taken out.  Although this was also approved by the Secretary of State in September 1969, appeals to the Court of Session delayed the commencement of development until 1973.  The construction of the distributor road through Tweedbank commenced on 31 March 1973 and planning permission was granted for Phase I of the SSHA housing in June 1973 with house construction commencing in October 1973.  The new A68-A7 link over the River Tweed at Galafoot Bridge was opened in 1975.

SSHA would eventually build almost 300 houses in three phases over the next five years but the public sector housing programme came effectively to a halt in 1980 owing to a change in Government [the election of the Thatcher Conservative Government].  It was 1990 before Scottish Homes, formed in 1989, embarked on an expansion of housing at Tweedbank with a further 400 houses of varying tenure over a 6-year programme.  Eildon Housing would also build houses for rent and part-ownership.  Private housing would be built by Bett Homes in the 1980s and, more recently, by Barratt Homes.  By 2011, the population had reached 2,000 persons, considerably less than the 4,400 persons envisaged in 1968.

Within the centre of the village, a local centre was proposed comprising a primary school, community centre, shops, church hall and public house, situated close to a central lake formed in an existing swampy depression.  Tweedbank Primary School was opened in October 1976 [and was extended and refurbished in 2011] but there would be little progress on a village centre.  It was 1991 before a design/developer brief was prepared but efforts to find a developer floundered and little progress was made until 1995 when a block of three retail units was constructed.  The village centre now comprises a single local shop, a hairdressers and a bar/restaurant fronting the lake (originally described as the second lake in Scotland after the Lake of Menteith but now commonly known as Gun Knowe Loch).  Local offices of the Scottish Government’s Agriculture and Rural Economy Division are located close by.  A newly refurbished community centre is housed in the old Tweedbank Farm.  Lowood Mains houses a number of craft workshops.  A large area of playing fields and open space now includes an all-weather running track, an Astroturf football pitch, an indoor bowling club and sports complex.

Approximately 30 acres of land was allocated for industry in 1968, which it was estimated would accommodate approximately 500,000 sq.ft. [46,000 sq.m.] of floorspace and provide some 700 jobs.  The Scottish Development Agency (SDA) would be the prime mover in the development of the industrial estate, building both advance factories and bespoke units.  By the late 1980s, the SDA had built eleven blocks of industrial units of varying size, providing a total floor-space of some 120,000 sq. ft. occupied by tenants such as Hill Robinson Thread Co. Ltd., Tweedbank Circuits, Peri-dent Ltd., Magnet and Sprague Electric (UK) Ltd.  The Borders Regional Council built smaller workshop units (Eildon Mill).  In 1988, the Regional Council serviced 4.6ha of land on the north side of Tweedbank Drive and established Tweedside Park.  The first occupant was Radio Borders in January 1990.  They would be followed by Barbour, who moved from a smaller unit in Newcastleton, in 1996 and the Scottish Public Pensions Agency in 2001.  The Barbour factory closed in 2008, to be occupied by Plexus, an electrical wholesaler, until 2016.  The unit is now empty.

The SDA had begun to sell-off units to sitting tenants at Tweedbank from 1987 and in March 1990, the SDA sold substantial parts of its property holdings, including all land and buildings at Tweedbank, to Caledonian Land plc.  The Borders Regional Council made known its concerns to little effect.  The following year, the SDA was transformed into Scottish Enterprise, which established new local enterprise companies (LECs).  The Borders LEC, Scottish Borders Enterprise, was launched in April 1991.  Although not involved in building advanced factories, the LEC still had a role in providing business premises, such as building or converting existing buildings tailored to the needs of individual companies, environmental improvements and training.

Aggmore, a Real Estate Fund Manager, acquired the former SDA land/factory holdings in 2003, after a period of stagnation, and carried out various improvements.  By this time, manufacturing units had been converted to warehousing, with tenants such as Securicor, DHL, Plumbase and Plumbstore.  Electrical and telecoms firm Qube GB were attracted to the estate.  A significant part of the Tweedbank Industrial Estate is still understood to be owned by Aggmore.  The remainder comprises a mix of owner-occupied units and a tenanted unit (Eildon Mill) owned by Scottish Borders Council.

However, the industrial estate is suffering from an ageing and increasingly sub-standard stock of buildings and the size and layout of the buildings and related loading/parking areas are not consistent with modern requirements.  Four council sites, two on the industrial estate and two situated on the north side of Tweedbank Drive have been identified for development/redevelopment.  Tweedbank Industrial Estate has been designated a Simplified Planning Zone and associated Supplementary Guidance has been approved by the council to safeguard land and buildings for business uses.  Work on Supplementary Guidance for the Lowood Estate is to commence early in 2019 to be completed by the end of 2020.  A marketing and development strategy is to be developed in parallel.  Time will tell whether the acquisition of Lowood Estate is a prudent purchase or whether it will prove to be a ‘White Elephant’.  However, it should be remembered that the original purchase of Tweedbank in the 1970s was questioned in some quarters but I think all would agree that, 45 years later, albeit the population and employment projections have been shown to be over-optimistic, the project has been an overwhelming success.  Let us hope that we will be saying the same about this latest purchase in 20 years time.