Competition fears as Lauder restaurant gets planning go-ahead

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LOSING a grocery shop in Lauder to make way for a new restaurant is “a step too far”, according to local councillor Nicholas Watson.

He was commenting on Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee meeting last week when he moved refusal of an application by Sergio Eneide to turn retail premises at 7 Market Place – known as the Rutherford building – into a restaurant.

His motion was rejected 10-3 and the committee granted consent for the change of use as recommended by local planning officer Stuart Herkes.

Mr Watson, who represents Leaderdale and Melrose, told the meeting: “There is already an abundance of places to eat and drink in Lauder and, to my mind, losing a shop to make way for another restaurant is a step too far. It is difficult enough for local businesses as it is.”

This point was echoed in the letters of six objectors, which also claimed the proposal would be out of character with the town centre and the listed building status of the property. Some believed there was insufficient parkingto cope.

Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre supported the change of use, saying that an empty shop would be more of a blot on Lauder’s town centre landscape than a new restaurant.

In his report, Mr Herkes said: “The role of town and village centres is changing as a result of changing shopping patterns and, given the current economic climate, it is prudent to consider a range of uses that will contribute to their ongoing viability.

“This will include not just shops, but also certain financial and professional uses as well as food and drink uses which also contribute to the vibrancy of town centres beyond normal recognised opening hours.

“Although objectors have raised concerns about the oversupply of restaurants and cafes in the surrounding area it is not the role of the planning system to regulate competition or protect established businesses.”

The committee heard that Transport Scotland, the roads authority for the A68, had said it had no concerns about the proposed restaurant.

After the meeting, Mr Watson said: “Those in favour of this planning application seem to be saying any business is good business.

“That is the same logic that allowed two 24-hour superstores in Galashiels – not necessarily good for the viability, variety and vitality of that town.”

The committee gave its unanimous blessing to another change of use in Lauder: the conversion of the library in the Old Smiddy building in East High Street into a co-operative gift/craft shop run by the Lauder Trading Post community group. The library will now operate from the Old Jail premises beneath the Town Hall. The shop will be open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-5pm.