Affordable homes given go-ahead despite objections

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MORE than 50 affordable houses are set to be built in Galashiels and Innerleithen, with construction due to start this spring and summer respectively, writes Andrew Keddie.

It follows the decision on Monday by Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee to approve both schemes from Peebles-based Tweed Homes.

Managing director Andy Pearson expressed “delight and relief” after consent had been granted for 26 homes near Balnakiel House, off the A72 to the west of Galashiels, and a block of 25 flats at Traquair Road in Innerleithen.

The decision in relation to the latter was unanimous, despite seven letters of objections from residents and a strong submission by Innerleithen and District Community Council which claimed the proposal was “gross over-development and unacceptable”.

But planning officer Dorothy Amyes concluded: “A development wholly comprising affordable housing is to be welcomed”.

The committee concurred with her assertion that although new tenants would have “restricted amenity” the proposal was acceptable “given the wider community benefit arising from the affordable status of the development which is acknowledged in the Local Plan”.

Mr Pearson revealed the entire Innerleithen development, in which his company will invest £2.5million to construct, would be affordable via the Scottish Government’s new National Housing Trust (NHT) scheme.

The committee heard this mechanism was currently being piloted by Scottish Borders Council which would use prudential borrowing to meet 65 per cent of the value of the NHT properties at completion. The homes will be let at mid-market rental levels for between five and 10 years and sold at market value afterwards or when the tenant leaves of his or her own volition.

Indicative monthly rentals suggest a one-bedroom property would cost £272.

Mr Pearson said that under the NHT scheme, tenants would be offered the opportunity during their tenancy to make regular savings to generate a sufficient sum for a deposit to secure a mortgage.

“The ability to secure mortgage funds gives tenants the chance to buy their property and eliminate the risk of homelessness,” said Mr Pearson.

The Galashiels development will be a mix of 15 NHT properties and 11 which can be purchased via a shared equity scheme.

However, the firm’s application for the 26 units had to survive a recommendation for refusal from planning officers, who claimed the development was too dense, would detract from the character of the surrounding area and had insufficient parking provision.

Objections were also lodged by 23 residents, one claiming that with over 70 per cent of the proposed houses affordable, this would change the “prestigious development” which neighbouring householders had already bought into.

But on the motion of Councillor Donald Moffat, who said the scheme was “good news for Gala”, the committee voted 7-3 to grant approval.

Mr Pearson said his firm would invest nearly £3.7million in constructing the Galashiels homes, with work due to start this spring. The Innerleithen development will get under way this summer.

And he said of the NHT houses: “It is proposed that property maintenance and management of the site will be performed by the Eildon Housing Association who have a wealth of experience in dealing with tenants enduring periods of financial hardship and homelessness issues.”