Knock back for Knock Knowe project

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IT may have had the backing and support of television’s Kevin McCloud, presenter of the popular Grand Designs series, but planners this week still knocked back an appeal over their previous refusal to grant consent over what must rank as the most unique house design proposed for a site in the Borders in recent years, writes Mark Entwisle.

Earlier this year, members of Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee turned down an application for a site at Knock Knowe, near Earlston.

The site lies within what was once part of the landscape and policies of Carolside House, near Earlston.

These were divided up in the late 1970s when parts of the estate were sold, including the west park of the historic mansion.

This park was laid out in the early 1800s in the style of famous landscape architect, Capability Brown, and was designed to take advantage of the steep contours of the landscape and to provide a dramatic setting for the driveway to the mansion.

But the 1970s saw the west park planted up as commercial forestry and those behind the project say many of the original and historic landscape features are now in danger of being lost for ever.

The present landowner, Robert Younger, has felled the Sitka spruce plantation and wanted to restore the site at what is known as Knock Knowe. But his application for planning permission for a concept five-bedroom dwelling on a site in the west park, which now forms part of the Earlston Circular Path network, was rejected by Scottish Borders Council planning committee.

Celebrated Edinburgh architect Richard Murphy had described the building he designed as a “stealth-broch, where no-one really knows whether it is a house, a fortification or an agricultural enclosure”.

His eye-catching design, which seems to erupt from the ground it stands on, is hidden away within a circular stone wall.

The project had the backing of Mr McCloud, who in a recent issue of the Grand Designs magazine, described the proposed house as “Thunderbirds meets sheep pen meets hill fort meets oriental pavilion”.

He wrote that the design “sparkles with innovation” and that the proposal was “a beautiful example of landscape and architecture fully integrated”.

Mr McCloud added: “It deserves to get built.”

But this week, a hearing over several points raised during the recent appeal, saw the latter finally dismissed with a 3-2 vote.

Planning committee member, Councillor Michelle Ballantyne (Selkirkshire, Con), had been keen for the project to get the go-ahead and was disappointed with the result of the vote.

“This was a very difficult application as it was an unusual situation. Although it fell outside planning policy, I felt the building was an innovative and exciting design that would settle into the landscape beautifully and on balance I felt that the restoration of the parkland would enhance rather than detract from the area,” she told TheSouthern.

“Certainly granting planning permission would have brought risks but we have few opportunities to create exciting designs where large investment is required and I would like to see us supporting this kind of project where the risks can be mitigated.

“I am dissapointed that this area will not be restored to its former beauty but hope that it will not put individuals off coming forward with this kind of proposal in the future.”

Mr Younger found it hard to conceal his disappointment. He told TheSouthern this week: “I believe that my scheme would have not only facilitated the restoration of a public landscape of significance to the Borders but actually placed another jewel in its crown.

“It is my opinion that the modernised planning system has not served the people of the Borders well as they have now lost what could have been a spectacular and notable public space.

“What is even worse is the message that it sends to others – that the Borders council is not prepared to be innovative, to respond to the environmental pressures it faces and to support excellence.”