Hugo and Jessica Lee’s plans for a holiday home on stilts at Sandystones Farm were rejected by planning officer Brett Taylor, under delegated powers, in April, but they’re now hoping to have that knockback overturned at next week’s meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s local review body.
Their proposed treehouse, to be marketed via specialist travel firm Sawday’s Canopy and Stars, was given the thumbs-down because its location on a flood-plain was deemed to pose a potential risk to holidaymakers, sparking objections from both the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and council flood and coastal management technician Lauren Addis.
That rejection followed another in November last year for similar plans at the 400-acre farm, also citing the flood risk feared to be posed by the Ale Water.
The 45sq m treehouse proposed by the Lees – to be timber-framed and larch-clad, with a slate roof – would be able to accommodate families of up to five.
Planning agent Jamie Murray, of Newstead, near Melrose, contends that holidaymakers wouldn’t be at any risk from flooding as they’d be 3m above ground level and would be able to escape via raised walkways if necessary.
That argument failed to say Mr Taylor, however.
In his report on the application, he says: “The planning statement indicates that the treehouse would not be at flood risk due to being located on stilts some 3m above the predicted flood-plain level and that stilts are unlikely to have an impact on flood-plain capacity.
“It should be noted that holiday accommodation is classed as the most vulnerable and raising the development above the flood-plain using stilts is not acceptable under Scottish planning policy.
“The occupants of this treehouse accommodation may be required to be evacuated or rescued during a flood event, thus placing others in danger, and the structure may be damaged where debris is carried by the watercourse.
“The cornerstone of sustainable flood risk management is the avoidance of flood risk in the first instance, and it is recommended that alternative locations be considered.
“The development would be contrary to the 2016 local development plan in that the proposal would be within an area of flood risk and potentially place occupants at an unacceptable risk of flooding.”
Mr Murray, boss of Murray Land and Buildings, disagrees, however, arguing: “Even allowing for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s worst-case scenario, the occupied area and the access-egress walkway would still be at least 1.2m above flood level.
“Flood waters cannot reach either the occupied area or the walkway.
“Provision of the development on stilts is not contrary to Scottish planning policy.
“The mitigation provided is not being paid cognisance to.”
He adds: “The proposed treehouse would be used as a holiday let to cater for the Borders’ tourism market, which is in an expansion phase as staycations become more popular.
“Sandystones is a relatively small agricultural unit of some 400 acres. A number of diversifications ensure the business spreads its risk and improves viability.
“Without diversifications, the business would not be able to provide its current four full-time jobs.
“The proposed treehouse is a further diversification which aims to further broaden the business’s base, creating an additional income stream and further employment.
“Tourism is an important facet of the Borders’ local economy. This proposal would add to the current offering of accommodation in the Borders.
“The treehouse is a niche type of holiday let, and we envisage demand will be high, bringing a steady supply of tourism into the Borders.”
The review body’s meeting on Monday, August 17, is to be held online via Microsoft Teams, beginning at 10am.