Public inquiry beckons as councillors reject Jed superstore bid

Jedburgh supermarket protesters at the SBC planning meeting.

Jedburgh supermarket protesters at the SBC planning meeting.

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within 24 hours of councillors rejecting a planning application for a new supermarket in Jedburgh came the announcement that the unsuccesful developer is to lodge an appeal with the Scottish Government.

Given the amount of local interest in a proposal which has elicited support from more than 700 townsfolk, that appeal will almost certainly be determined after evidence is given to a public inquiry.

And that platform for expression has offered some succour to the campaigners who turned up at Monday’s meeting at Newtown to watch Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee decide if Crabtree & Crabtree should be allowed to build a 14,000 sq.ft food retail outlet at the Edinburgh Road site formerly occupied by Oregon Timber Frame.

But six years after the latter business switched its production to Selkirk and just five months after the committee rejected an almost identical proposal, councillors voted 9-2 to refuse consent. The decision was immediately described as “farcical” by Dot Millar, a founder member of the Voice and Choice campaign group which was formed when the first planning bid was outvoted 8-4 last October.

After that decision, more than 300 people signed up to a Facebook page demanding a supermarket on the site, convincing the developer to try again with the same application which had fallen foul of SBC’s policy to protect land, such as the Oregon site, for employment/industrial use – excluding retail.

By Monday, that show of support had mushroomed. In addition to a public meeting in December at which a show of hands indicated 90 per cent of the 200 who attended backed the proposal, two petitions were submitted to planners: an online petition with 178 names and a paper version with 498 signatures. A further 29 individual letters also endorsed the proposal.

“It almost beggars belief that the rejection vote this time round was even more emphatic than the last time especially as elected members now know the huge groundswell of public feeling in favour of the supermarket,” said Mrs Millar.

“This shows a wanton disregard of any consideration for the people of Jedburgh. This committee seems to operate in a bubble, oblivious to the urgent need in the town for the 100 full and part-time jobs that this will bring.

“Young people are already having to leave to look for jobs and even more futures look set to be sacrificed on the altar of a policy which is so out of date as to be laughable.”

Earlier in the debating chamber, senior planning officer John Hayward reiterated his interpretation that the proposal flouted the approved Local Plan policy which identifies the Oregon site as employment land and proscribes uses other than business, industrial, storage and distribution. The policy specifies that mainstream retail uses will not be allowed.

Mr Hayward said the proposed store, not much bigger than the Co-op in Jedburgh’s High Street, would not be large enough to claw back the retail leakage of expenditure lost to other shopping centres such as Hawick, Kelso and Jedburgh. It would, he claimed, have “a signficant detrimental impact” on the vitality and viability of Jedburgh town centre because the {Oregon] site, being so far out on the outskirts, would not encourage linked shopping trips to town centre shops and businesses.

Councillors supporting refusal included Kelso’s Tom Weatherston who said the Oregon site was “prime industrial land”. He noted that no evidence had been presented to the committee that there was not another more suitable and accessible site for a retail outlet. “There must be other options closer to the town centre,” he added.

Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre told the meeting: “Out of town supermarkets like this are the killers of town centre retail vitality. The jobs created would not be new, but would be leeched from other local employers. This policy can, of course, be overridden, but only if there are exceptional circumstances and community benefit will accrue.

“This proposal is for commercial, not community, benefit and we simply cannot sell Jedburgh’s birthright for a mess of potage.”

Before moving for approval, Jedburgh councillor Jim Brown asked councillors to consider a continuation to “properly ascertain” the impact of the development on the town centre and to give the applicant time to contribute financially to worthwhile projects, including the linking of businesses to historical attractions.

“I have to say, however, it is little wonder the public is mystified that we should be applying this policy when businesses all around the site, including a petrol station and two woollen mills, are primarily engaged in retail,” said Mr Brown.

Mrs Millar said there was no evidence to suggest town centre vitality would not be hit by a superstore on Edinburgh Road.

“This council has already departed from the same policy by allowing McDonald’s to come and flourish in Galashiels,” she told us. “When big brands like that and Marks and Spencer appear, they bring other businesses with them. This could become a magnet for more retailers to come to Jedburgh and you have to speculate to accumulate. If this decision is not overturned – and this will not be over until at least this particular fat lady sings – then this great town will continue to wither. Our councillors cannot grasp that so we can only hope that the Scottish Government reporter who conducts the appeal enquiry is less blinkered and gives due consideration to the views – and the future of – Jethart people.”

Graham Preston, agent for Crabtree & Crabtree, confirmed he had instructed high profile development consultants England & Lyle to lodge and expedite the appeal.

“We will be taking issue with the committee’s interpretation of the policy and the presumption, explicit in the refusal, that this development will adversely hit the vitality of the town centre,” said Mr Preston.

“We will also be stressing that SBC did produce a list of five possible alternative sites which were all considered but dismissed because they were too small to provide an outlet – with about the same retail space as Comet or Currys in Galashiels – where customers can do a proper weekly shop. It is quite wrong to suggest no other sites were considered.”