Already-stalled plans for £50m distillery near Jedburgh now facing further threat

Plans for a £50m distillery near Jedburgh already hanging in the balance because of the UK’s upcoming exit from the European Union are now under further threat due to the current coronavirus crisis.

Councillor Jim Brown at the old Jedforest Hotel site near Jedburgh.
Councillor Jim Brown at the old Jedforest Hotel site near Jedburgh.

It was back in 2013 that an ambitious project for a distillery on the site of the former Jedforest Hotel at Lintalee, north of Camptown, was first unveiled by Mossburn Distillers, owned by the Dutch drinks firm Maurussia Beverages.

Scottish Borders Council planners approved the project in 2016 but flooding concerns raised by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency led to the application being forwarded to Holyrood for ministerial approval.

The Scottish Government announced in February 2017 that it had decided not to intervene in the process, allowing the local authority’s approval for the proposals to stand.

The Mossburn Distillery site at the former Jedforest Hotel showing few signs of development in April 2020.

Initial work started on the site, just off the A68, late in 2017 but ceased completely at the end of last year.

Now, the applicant has submitted a planning application to the council requesting consent for an unspecified delay for completion of the project.

The halting of the work coincided with the UK Government giving the go-ahead for Brexit and whisky tariffs being levied by US president Donald Trump on exports to America.

Jedburgh councillor Jim Brown said he is not surprised at the company’s latest move but remains hopeful that the distillery, expected to create 50 jobs, is not completely dead in the water.

He said: “It’s not really surprising when you consider the impact of Donald Trump putting higher tariffs on whiskys and so on, and I know the applicants had already spent a considerable sum of money on renovating the building at Jedforest and had also spent a lot of money on preparing the planning applications.

“It is a huge project and would lead to a massive change to working lives in the Jed Valley and Jedburgh and even the Borders.

“We’re talking about 50 jobs and £50m of investment, and I could see that they would not want to abandon it completely, but I can also see that they would not want to take any further action until they can see what happens after the virus clears away. I can understand why it is up in the air.

“It would be easy to dismiss this as just a delaying action before Mossburn Distillers finally give up on the idea, but I don’t think that is the case because I fought hard for an old filling station, which was actually going to be the entry point for the new complex, to be demolished because the people in Jed Valley saw it as a real eyesore.

“The company actually pulled that down, one of the last things they did on that site, which makes me think the project hasn’t been abandoned altogether because they could easily have left it standing and moved on.

“As soon as they got the planning permission through in 2017, they started almost immediately, working on the hotel building itself, which had fallen into a wee bit of disrepair.

“I can understand why a worldwide company would have to sit back before making a major investment of £50m, having already spent more than £5m.”

Mr Brown’s cautious optimism is supported by comments made by Neil Mathieson, chief executive of Mossburn Distillers, in December.

At the time, he denied the project had been axed, saying only that “political uncertainty had caused the company to pull back on progress”.

Construction of the first phase of the plant at the Cleithaugh site was due be completed by autumn 2021.

It was set to be the second whisky plant opened in the Borders in three years following the completion of the Borders Distillery in Hawick in 2018.

The company’s aim was to embark on a staged development expected to grow over a 20-year period, starting with a small distillery on land to the east of the hotel with a 36-seat cafe and office buildings.

That was to evolve into the construction, on the north of the site, of the main Mossburn distillery, capable of producing 25 million litres of spirit a year and featuring four copper distillation vessels, as well as 21 fermentation tanks.