THE public benches are expected to be full on Monday week when the planning authority will, for the second time in five months, decide whether Jedburgh can have a new £5million supermarket, writes Andrew Keddie.
The campaign group, Voice and Choice, formed after Scottish Borders Council (SBC) members voted down the proposal in October, has organised a 50-seat bus to take townsfolk who favour the proposal to Newtown for the debate.
No sooner had the committee voted 8-4 to reject the use of the empty Oregon timber frame site in Edinburgh Road for a 14,000sq ft superstore, than applicant Crabtree & Crabtree announced it was re-submitting the proposal.
The reason was simple: an overwhelming number of people in the town had supported the bid and it was, claimed backers, in the pressing interest of Jedburgh citizens to have a retail outlet, which will create 100 full and part-time jobs and stem the flow of shoppers from the town to Hawick, Kelso and Galashiels.
Jedburgh Traders Association feared the plan would starve the town centre of custom, but at a packed public meeting, a show of hands re-emphasised support for the proposal. That backing was later endorsed by a Facebook campaign and an on-line petition.
The planning committee’s decision was based on SBC’s local plan policy ED1 – was adopted a year ago – which bans any retail advitities on employment land such as the Oregon site.
The majority of councillors also agreed with planning officials that the “out-of-centre location that would affect the vitality and viability of the town centre”. Officials went on: “It has not been adequately demonstrated that this is the most appropriate site for a new food store in Jedburgh”.
So how can the committee, when it meets on February 13 change its mind?
The head of planning and regulatory services at SBC, Brian Frater said this week: “Local plan policies are material considerations, but they are not cast in stone.
“Policy is a starting point, but members of the committee can go against it if they feel there is sufficient justification to do so.”
That will offer some comfort to Smithy House Associates, the PR firm that has been lobbying on behalf of Crabtree & Crabtree and which organised the public meeting.
Jeanette Thomson of Smithy House said: “Notwithstanding the blanket presumption against retail activity [on a site governed by policy ED1], the circumstances under which planning policy allows a site to be released from employment use include where an appreciable community benefit will accrue.
“There is a demonstrable need for additional main shopping facilities in Jedburgh. The development of vacant, redundant employment sites for these purposes would result in their regeneration and create a significiant number of jobs – appreciably more than are typically associated with employment sites.
“The proposed re-use of redundant land for retail purposes represents precisely the situation where the council should be able to support the change of use of employment land.
“The policy [ED1] denies the council and its members flexibility to consider development proposals on their own merits and prevents the council from planning effectively for the provision of new retail facilities where, as in Jedburgh, a need has been demonstrated.”
The bus taking supporters to Newtown on February 13 will leave Jedburgh bus station at 9.30am, returning after the committee has made its decision.
Anyone wishing a seat should contact Dot Millar of Voice and Choice on 07979 207 727 before Monday, February 6. Seats will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.