Cash alternative fails to calm angry villagers over playpark

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ANCRUM villagers may be angry a promised new playpark is not going to get built alongside a controversial housing development, but the alternative of cash to improve an existing children’s facility is better than what they might have ended up with, writes Mark Entwistle.

This, according to local Scottish Borders Council (SBC) member Len Wyse, would have been a small fenced-off area with, perhaps, a picnic bench in the middle and little or nothing else.

“This is because the money now negotiated for this would mostly have to go on levelling the ground and fencing the area off, if it was being spent on a completely new playpark,” Councillor Wyse told TheSouthern this week.

He was commenting on the Duke’s Field housing development, which came up again at the May meeting of Ancrum Community Council.

The scheme has been plagued with controversy since it started. As far back as 2005, local residents were protesting over the number of homes planned for the development which is on land sold by Roxburghe Estates – hence the name Duke’s Field.

Several years and several contractors later, the project – still owned by Myrecroft Properties – is now almost finished. Kelso builders M & J Ballantyne are the latest contractors to be appointed and they will complete the remainder of the 40-odd properties.

But at the latest community council meeting, members heard that Scottish Borders Council had now negotiated a deal with the administrators of the site – original contractors Roxburgh Homes Ltd went into liquidation – whereby £18,000 will be donated to be spent improving the existing playpark.

However, residents are none too happy they aren’t getting the new playpark promised and say that, with an extra 20-plus children to cater for, the current facility is now too small.

Councillor Wyse, who admits the project has been something of a “nightmare” from the start, says villagers have every right to feel aggrieved by the whole saga.

“There’s been umpteen developers involved – the whole thing’s been very messy and I’m not surprised locals are ticked off.

“They have a genuine gripe that the community council has not been consulted enough. But the council felt that if we pressed for a new playpark it would never happen.

“We could be waiting years because the scheme was in administration.

“So negotiations have resulted in this donation towards either a new playpark or more equipment for the existing one – but if the cash was spent on a new one by the time you levelled the ground and fenced it off, you might not be able to afford much more than a picnic bench in the middle.”

Community council chairman Robert Smith said the scheme had been a “mess” from the start.

“This arrangement over the playpark seems to have suited the council. I can’t say I’m happy about it, but not much can be done now except shout about it,” he added.

Planning permission was first granted for the 43 homes to be built on land at South Myrecroft in January 2006. A condition of the original planning consent, as is customary, was that the developers would build a new playpark before all the houses were finished.

After Roxburgh Homes Ltd went into liquidation, Edinburgh-based investment firm Wolsey Residential Finance – which had financed part of the project – stepped in and appointed AME Construction Services as contractors.

Wolsey’s Peter Howard said a public footpath had made it difficult to create a new playpark where originally envisaged.

“However, no-one is turning their back on this project or trying to run away and that is why £18,000 is being given towards improving the existing playpark,” Mr Howard told TheSouthern.