DESPITE being described variously as a ‘carbuncle’, ‘looking like a damaged box’ and a ‘missed opportunity’, the design for the new Galashiels transport interchange still garnered enough support from councillors to be approved this week.
Scottish Borders Council planning committee voted 8-4 in favour of the recommendation from planning officers to approve the scheme for the site wedged between Stirling Street and Ladhope Vale.
The lower portion of the interchange will be stone, while the upper sections will be clad in silver-coloured shingles similar to those used in the futuristic modern terminal building at Farnborough Airport.
However, councillors were faced with the bizarre situation of having a recommendation to approve before them, while at the same time noting that the council’s own heritage and urban design officer had expressed serious concerns about the external appearance of the proposed building, particularly the controversial twisted mansard roof and the metal shingle cladding.
Added to this were comments from the council’s urban design officer who felt the modern three-storey building design did not relate particularly well to its surrounding Galashiels context.
Although designed for three storeys, the building is actually of a scale comparable to a five-storey residential building and will dwarf neighbouring properties.
As well as the new interchange building – for which Birmingham-based firm, D5 Architects, has utilised two ‘colliding’ forms – the project will see Stirling Street realigned, with its bus station demolished and a new bus park adjacent to the interchange.
There was some concern raised that, with the actual railway platform on the other opposite side of Ladhope Vale from the interchange, an elevated walkway to link the two had not been adopted, but councillors were informed this would not have complied with road safety requirements.
The council’s roads planning officials, however, gave the scheme a glowing recommendation, saying the project will deliver a fully-integrated transport system in the heart of the town.
Planning officer John Hayward said the interchange would be a significant building for Galashiels.
“This will create opportunities for the enhancement of the town centre,” he said. “It is the first phase of the wider regeneration of this part of Galashiels.”
Local Galashiels councillor, Bill White (Ind), said the interchange had the ‘wow’ factor. “This will be the largest civic building the council has undertaken and what we wanted to create was something that demonstrated what the Scottish Borders is all about – innovative and open for business, and that we are not some dowdy, backstreet council.”
However, Conservative Group leader Michelle Ballantyne (Selkirkshire) was less enthusiastic and unhappy that rush-hour traffic would be continually halted by people using the pedestrian crossing to get to the platform.
Councillor Nicholas Watson (Leaderdale & Melrose, BP) felt it was a “poor, weak,” design. “When I showed the design to my children they said it resembled a damaged box, which I thought was quite a perceptive remark,” he said.
“The roof in the middle, I feel, is particularly a mess, while the windows look like they were added as an afterthought. It’s a very unsatisfactory design and does not sit well next to the other nearby buildings.
“I think we should be thinking about refusing this on design grounds.
“It won’t be a waste of time, though, because with some proper architectural input it could be turned into something really good.”
Councillor Simon Mountford (Kelso & District, Con) described the new building as a ‘carbuncle’. “It’s is mish-mash and I think we’re missing an opportunity,” he told the meeting.