Vision for ‘estate the size of Lauder’ unveiled by builders

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FOUR years after it was first earmarked as a suitable site for a major housing development, the UK’s second-biggest housebuilder has unveiled its vision for Easter Langlee on the eastern outskirts of Galashiels.

And, as the illustration above reveals, it is massive: 450 houses of various types capable of hosting a population of around 1,100 – on a par with the Royal Burgh of Lauder eight miles to the north.

Persimmon, which bucked the downward trend in the new-built market by recording a 10 per cent jump in turnover last year, lodged a Proposal of Application Notice with Scottish Borders Council just before Christmas.

At the same time, the firm submitted a masterplan for the huge site, stetching west to east from the Langshaw road to the Pavilion and Housebyres estates, and south to north from the main B6374 road to Melrose to the outskirts of the council’s large landfill site.

In so doing, the company triggered a three-month period of consultation with a range of stakeholders, including residents of Coopersknowe on the other side of the Langshaw road.

Senior planning officer Ian Aikmen said this week that he expected a full planning application for the first phase of the project – about 100 houses at the western (Galashiels) end of the site – to be submitted after the consultation.

On Monday, SBC’s planning committee met to consider the masterplan which met with a largely positive response.

Members heard the site of sloping farmland had been allocated for 300 housing units in the 2008 Local Plan which had since been amended to cater for 450 houses – a key element in the business case for the Borders railway.

Persimmon had agreed that the masterplan should be a pre-requisite of any detailed planning application, thus putting into abeyance two previous bids, lodged in 2007, for 493 houses across the entire site.

Councillors agreed on Monday to approve and adopt Persimmon’s vision “as a material planning consideration to be applied to the determination of future planning applications for the Local Plan allocation”.

The new internal roads lay-out, with a square for buses, was described as “excellent” by assistant road user manager Derek Inglis, noting that while a new roundabout at the junction of the two existing roads was included, it was not a necessity because of improvements already made to support the Coopersknowe development.

“This is perhaps the biggest new housing scheme the Borders has seen and while the masterplan is helpful, it is not set in stone,” said Councillor Nicholas Watson.

“Four years ago I made the point that extending Galashiels so far was bad planning and I hold to the belief that it comes too close to coalescing Galashiels with Melrose and Gattonside.

“In fact the signature open space in the plan, known as the Knoll, is actually closer to the post office in Melrose than the post office in Galashiels.”

Mr Watson told the meeting he was unhappy with the “large, suburban houses” which lined the perimeter of the vast site and felt pressure should be applied to the firm to provide community facilities, including a shop, a community centre and a pub.

The masterplan merely indicates a “future community facility” in a small corner of the Knoll.

Councillor Gavin Logan recalled a visit to the new village of Poundbury near Dorchester when SBC was considering siting a new settlement near Abbotsford.

“Poundbury maintained its vibrancy by having well-designed shops,” said Mr Logan. “One of the major problems with the Cardrona development [between Innerleithen and Peebles] has been the lack of community facilities.

“We don’t want Easter Langlee to become a sterile community with everyone heading into Galashiels to do their shopping.”

Around 20 members of the public, notably residents of Coopersknowe, had objected to the 2007 planning applications and Mr Aikman flagged up the likelihood of more dissent from the owners of the Pavilion Estate where shooting is a regular sporting activity.

“The masterplan shows that the buffer zone between the kick pitch at the north-east of the site and the estate is just 13 metres wide. I know that Pavilion Estate believes this should be at least 50 metres in order to protect the shooting interests.”

Persimmon’s turnover topped £157billion last year, despite sluggish market conditions, with the average house selling price reaching £167,000.