Councillors unimpressed by company’s anger as 82-house development is rejected

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THE Peeblesshire village of West Linton – population 1,500 and rising – is creaking at the seams according to local councillor Neil Calvert.

The Tory member for Tweeddale West was highlighting the inadequacy of Main Street, which carries the A702 road, as he led opposition to a proposal for 82 new houses at Monday’s meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s planning and building standards committee.

He declared: “A new through road is an absolute necessity for West Linton and must be included in the next Local Plan.

“Main Street simply cannot cope with existing traffic, let alone more, and even emergency vehicles are frequently caught up in and delayed by the congestion.”

But it was not the introduction of more residents and hence more cars which was cited by senior planning officer Ian Aikmen as he recommended refusal of the bid for detailed planning consent from Springfield Properties PLC which has offices in Elgin and Larbert.

Instead Mr Aikman said the development, on flat pasture at Robinsland Farm on the eastern edge of the settlement and next to the site of the proposed new West Linton Primary School, failed to meet the required design standards to produce the high quality and attractive residential expansion of the village required by SBC policy and a draft planning brief for Robinsland produced and approved in 2008.

Mr Aikman added that Springfield had also not provided sufficient justification for the removal of existing traditional stone buildings at Robinsland Farm.

A total of 36 letters of objection had been submitted and high on the agenda of dissenters was the exacerbation of traffic congestion, the size of the development, its density and the ability of existing infrastructure to cope.

It transpired there had been much discussion between the applicants, one of Scotland’s largest independent housebuilders on its first foray into the Borders, and council officials, including Mr Aikmen and urban designer Carol Cooke, and that the proposal had been amended in a bid to allay design and roads misgivings from SBC.

Approval for 82 houses was still sought, however, comprising 49 detached units, 13 pairs of semis and two terraces of three and four units. Nearly half the homes would be four-bedroomed and most would have integral garages.

Mr Aikman’s report and recommendation clearly angered Springfield whose chairman Sandy Adam vented his spleen in a letter presented to the committee on Monday.

He wrote: “As a company we are obviously very disappointed about this.

“The tone of the planning report does not accurately or adequately address the negotiations and discussions between our staff and council officers, and I would like to express my frustration with the process to date.”

He revealed his company was withdrawing its offer to provide 21 affordable housing units on the site and he warned: “If the application is refused ... we will have no option but to appeal the decision and seek an award for expenses.

“This site would be our first in the Borders. However, based on the experience with dealing with the planning department, we will not be actively seeking other development opportunities in the area.”

Councillors were clearly unimpressed by this broadside ahead of their deliberations.

Councillor Calvert said: “It is simply not good enough for developers to meet their own standards or to get our staff to do the job for them. It is so obvious that this application is work in progress, but there is a risk that, on appeal, a Reporter will say any development is acceptable because of the current economic climate. For the sake of West Linton, I hope this does not happen.

“It is also untrue to suggest West Linton does not need affordable housing. I had an enquiry about this last week and we must get a supply to enable young people to stay here.”

Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre (Con, Selkirkshire) said: “Too many new housing developments in Scotland are mediocre and this is an example of that.”

Councillor Jim Fullarton (Con, East Berwickshire) added: “The threatening tone of the letter [from Springfield] betrays what I believe is a total lack of thought into this housing development.”

The committee unanimously agreed to refuse the application.