Whitmuir Hall holiday chalet plan torpedoed by sceptical councillors

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FEARS over their viability as a tourism development and potential impact on the quality of life for neighbouring residents, has seen controversial plans to build 28 holiday chalets at Whitmuir Hall on the outskirts of Selkirk thrown out by councillors.

Scottish Borders Council planning committee, meeting on Monday, voted 7-4 to refuse the application from Whitmuir Hall’s owner, Alan Williams.

This was despite a recommendation from planning officers that the scheme be approved.

Local authority planning officer Scott Shearer’s report had stated that Mr Williams proposal was in line with the local authority’s tourism policies.

Supporters of the project had also pointed to an economic review which claimed there was only a modest supply of existing self-catering provision in the Borders.

But speaking ahead of Monday’s meeting, local resident Hilary Dunlop, whose family owned Whitmuir Hall before selling it to Mr Williams in 1989, dismissed the economic forecast as a whitewash.

“The sole reason for recommending approval seems to be that it is in line with the Borders Tourism Strategy which, because of the economic downturn, has gone out of the window,” she said.

“It is a totally inappropriate site for a development. The facilities do not support the numbers which the developers say will use the lodges.”

A total of 50 objections were received by planners over the proposals, while last month Selkirk Community Council reiterated its opposition due to the proximity of the development to Whitmuir Loch, a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) still owned by the Dunlop family.

Although Mr Shearer’s report had contained assurances the proposal would not have a detrimental impact on the environment or visual amenities, it failed to sway seven members of the committee.

These included Selkirkshire councillor Michelle Ballantyne (Con) who had a number of concerns, one of which was that the project failed to grasp the policy that states tourism developments have to be sustainable.

“I’m struggling to make that link in terms of this particular development,” said Mrs Ballantyne. “It also does not support the policy of linking to the transport system as there is no public transport in or out of this site. Everyone going there would require a car.

“Also, the department never received an economic justification report, which one would have expected would have been done beforehand, instead of depending on a market overview which doesn’t refer to this site in particular.”

Mrs Ballantyne agreed the region needed more good quality self-catering properties, but doubted this was the development to help satisfy that need.

“There are a number of self-catering flats already there and there is no evidence this scheme is coming out of demand for these.”

Mrs Ballantyne said she was also alarmed by proposals to grant people occupancy periods up to six months in duration. “I don’t know many people who go on holiday for six months, renting a holiday flat at holiday rates for that length of time. It sounds more like short-term tenancies.”

She went on to flag up concerns about access and increased traffic, while her fellow Selkirkshire member, Vicky Davidson (LD), said objections to the proposals to develop the site had not diminished, despite the project being on the table for a number of years.

“I have no doubt this would change the character of this small settlement – it would impact on its neighbours and their quality of life,” she said.

“I don’t think this development would happen quickly and I just foresees very muddy roads and construction traffic for a long period. Generally, I’m not supportive of this development.”