A SENIOR member of Scottish Borders Council’s planning department has denied ignoring serious concerns surrounding one of the region’s biggest ever housing developments.
Ian Aikman was responding to claims from councillor Stuart Bell that the planning report on Persimmon Homes’ plans for 397 houses at Easter Langlee in Galashiels had a series of unresolved issues.
In particular, Mr Bell highlighted the fears of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) over the proximity of the proposed houses to the nearby rubbish tip.
However, Mr Bell’s proposal to defer a decision on the application until next month was outvoted 9-2 by councillors in favour of allowing planning officers to sort out unresolved matters with the developer.
Mr Bell, SBC’s executive member for economic development said: “I am very impressed with aspects of the development, but very disappointed with the report.
“We have a 45-page report with a series of issues which have not yet been decided.
“It seems to me that officers have taken the view that ‘We are right, and they [SEPA] are wrong’.
“I do not think we have had a balanced evaluation of the arguments from officers.”
He added: “I don’t think there is adequate evidence to show that a decision has to be made today.
“I have serious concerns that SEPA’s views have not been presented to us in a balanced manner.”
But Mr Aikman, SBC’s major applications, review and enforcement manager, replied: “We have had a very complex range of difficult issues to consider and most things have been resolved.
“We feel we are in a position to present a report and make a decision – it is up to you whether you think you can.
“I don’t agree the report is littered with unresolved issues.”
SEPA argued that residents of the nearby Coopersknowe development – many widely opposed to the Persimmon scheme – had complained of problems with odour, seagulls, noise and dust from the rubbish dump, despite being further away from the landfill site.
They suggested a 250m buffer zone between the new homes and the tip.
However, Mr Aikman said: “We have taken a different position from SEPA. A 250m buffer zone is a guideline but not a specific requirement.
“We have not ignored their concerns. They raise serious concerns, but do not object [to the application]. But I think a 40m buffer zone will address many of the issues.”
A SEPA spokesman told TheSouthern: “Whilst we did not object to the planning application we noted in our correspondence with the planning authority as far back as May 2012 that we were, and remain so, concerned that the development of housing adjacent to an existing waste management facility could give rise to residual nuisance in respect of odour, noise and dust.”
During a discussion which lasted more than an hour, there were a host of other issues raised by SBC’s planning committee.
Selkirkshire councillor Michelle Ballantyne was worried that such a large scale housing project – work has already begun on phase one of the scheme which includes 118 homes – would lead to problems with overcrowding in nearby schools.
She said: “There will be a huge number of children living on this site and I am concerned as to whether the capacity of Langlee Primary School can cope.”
However, planning officials said a legal agreement with the developer would provide contributions to local schools, as well as the Waverley railway and the building of a new roundabout.
Despite land being set aside for a community facility within phase two of the development, with phase one including a shop, Kelso councillor Simon Mountford believes Persimmon should have done more.
He said: “This is essentially going to become a village, so the community should be provided with facilities such as a village hall, maybe a pub, and more than one shop.”
Vice-chairman of the planning committee, Nicholas Watson added: “I was also very disappointed that there were no plans for shops, offices, pubs or yards, but we have to make sure in future that is included in the development plan.”
But Galashiels councillor Bill White believes the scheme will benefit the town, in particular the 118 affordable homes included in the project.
He added: “This is a major development for the Borders and is badly needed in Galashiels – many people are living in the town centre, but are finding it difficult to find affordable housing.”