Public views sought as map of protected landscapes is redrawn after 50 years

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IT is nearly 50 years since many mainly upland parts of the Borders were designated areas of great landscape value (AGLV) as a material planning consideration against “inappropriate developments”.

But members of the Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee heard this week that some of these zones, totalling more that 115,000 hectares, had become anachronisms and there with little or no written justification behind them.

Talla reservoir - Peebleshire

Talla reservoir - Peebleshire

That was certainly the view of the reporter who presided over the region’s local plan inquiry in 2007.

He ordered that due to the length of time since the areas were identified in the 1960s and the increase in pressure from development – not least modern phenomena such as wind farms – the council should carry out a review of all existing AGLVs, assessing their desirability and appropriateness.

A firm of consultants was engaged in March to carry out the work, based on “robust and justifiable methodology”, the results of which were presented to councillors on Monday.

They heard that, henceforth, the protected areas would, in line with guidance from Scottish Natural Heritage and Historic Scotland, be known as special landscape areas (SLAs).

The River Tweed is currently enjoying its second-highest salmon catches since records began more than 50 years ago. The Tweed Commissioners and related Tweed Foundation carry out research into the river environment. Pictured is fisherman Brian Colin, from Morebattle, fishing on the River Tweed at Dryburgh. 'Picture by Jane Barlow 10/04/07

The River Tweed is currently enjoying its second-highest salmon catches since records began more than 50 years ago. The Tweed Commissioners and related Tweed Foundation carry out research into the river environment. Pictured is fisherman Brian Colin, from Morebattle, fishing on the River Tweed at Dryburgh. 'Picture by Jane Barlow 10/04/07

The recommendations, which will now go out to 12 weeks of public consultation, identify the following eight SLAs covering a total land area of 110,000 hectares:

Tweedsmuir uplands; Tweed Valley; Tweed, Ettrick and Yarrow confluences; Tweed Lowlands; Teviot valleys; Lammermuir Hills; Berwickshire coast; and Cheviot foothills.

Some existing AGLVs are considerably smaller than at present including the Cheviot foothills, with the removal of land from Morebattle to the Carter Bar, and the Lammermuirs with the annexing of land to the north-east and south-east, much of which hosts wind farm developments.

The Tweedsmuir uplands replacesthe existing Tweedsmuir hills and upper Tweeddale AGLV with the Pentland Hills AGLV, to the west of West Linton, removed altogether as it did not score highly enough against the12 evaluation criteria used by the consultants.

But there are also two proposed SLAs which were previous undesignated: the Tweed lowlands – from Kelso to St Boswells skirting Smailholm to the north and Roxburgh to the south – and the Teviot valleys.

The latter stretches over the meeting of the A68, A698 and B6400 roads to the north, skirting Jedburgh to the east, stretching from Camptown and incorporating Bonchester Bridge, the Minto Hills and Ancrum.

The committee heard the proposed new SLAs would complement but not replace nor duplicate the region’s two national scenic areas – at Eildon/Leaderfoot and Upper Tweeddale – which would continue to have higher protection levels in development plan policy than SLAs.

The draft report presented to councillors sets out the potential development pressures faced by each of the eight SLAs, including wind farms, afforestation, rural housing, farm diversification and recreational developments.

But although the designations are advisory rather than prescriptive, several councillors predicted that, during the consultation period, the public would rightly take issue with some.

Councillor Neil Calvert (Tweeddale West) said he opposed the removal of the Pentland Hills AGLV from the list of new SLAs.

“The hills are a significant landscape feature of northern Peeblesshire and should not be downgraded,” he stated, seeking an assurance that Midlothian Council would be included in the consultation.

Councillor Jim Brown (Jedburgh) said he was mystified at the exclusion of land between Morebattle in the north to the English border at Carter Bar.

“I cannot think of a more scenic route into Scotland and for the western landscape to be unprotected is unacceptable,” said Mr Brown.

And Councillor Ron Smith (Hawick West), noting that Liddesdale and Newcastleton were not recognised in the proposed new list, was assured there was the potential after consultation for the number of SLAs to be increased.

When finally approved, the new landscape designations will form part of the raft of supplementary planning guidance which will inform all future planning determinations by SBC and its officials.

The committee was warned that without such guidance, areas of great landscape value in the Borders would be at risk of inappropriate development.

“Failure to approve…would ultimately have a negative impact on the quality of development and the thorough assessment of its environmental impact.”