Councillors consider unusual planning scheme for Tweedbank business park

Tweedbank Industrial Estate, November 2016
Tweedbank Industrial Estate, November 2016

The impact on existing businesses were at the forefront of councillors’ discussions over the reorganisation of Tweedbank’s industrial parks last week.

The early draft plans for the new Central Borders Business Park were discussed at length by Scottish Borders Council’s (SBC) planning committee, but worries over the possible inclusion of an old planning concept sparked concern with members.

The committee approved the draft documents for consideration in front of the full council next month, but raised questions about the simplified planning zone concept included in the report.

If the plans come to fruition, SBC would become only the second Scottish local authority to have put a simplified planning zone in place for more than 20 years.

Lead officer for plans and research Charles Johnston told the committee: “The main purpose of a simplified planning zone scheme is to enable development to take place without going through the planning process.

“This is all about speeding up and simplifying the planning system. While building warrants still stand, applications for development within the zone will be fast-tracked.”

Within a simplified planning zone the need to apply for planning permission for certain types of development is removed, so long as the development complies with the details and guidance set out in the scheme, the idea being that this cuts out the need for repetitive planning applications, saving time and money for the existing organisations and new businesses looking to invest in the park.

Committee chairman Hawick and Hermitage councillor Ron Smith said: “This is a novel approach. There is only one other example of this in Scotland as far as I am aware and that is in Renfrewshire Council.

“It will be interesting to see what the result of the consultation is.”

East Berwickshire councillor Jim Fullerton said: “The question of the viability of this project has to be recorded. Enthusiasm is one thing, but evidence of it being viable is the key.”

The Hillington Park simplified planning zone scheme, was adopted by Renfrewshire Council in August 2014, the first in Scotland for over 20 years. The project was hailed an award-winning success, and Renfrewshire Council then applied a similar approach in Renfrew town centre creating the first town centre simplified planning zone in Scotland last year.

However, this example aside, there is little evidence to suggest whether the introduction of a similar scheme at Tweedbank could work.

And exactly what changes the scheme could mean for existing businesses was a question the committee were quick to raise.

Selkirkshire councillor Michelle Ballantyne also called for more clarity over exactly what research had been done, adding: “I do find it uncomfortable to be presented with an idea that looks lovely on paper but to still ask how did we arrive at this? What is the evidence for taking this forward? What will this mean for businesses already in place?”

The report will go before the full council meeting on December 15, followed by a 12 week consultation period before findings are reported back to the committee.

The vision for the new business park at Tweedbank was first unveiled in 2014 by Alex Salmond, then First Minister, as part of a Blueprint for the Borders aimed at capitalising on the revival of the Borders Railway.

Kate Houghton, Scottish policy office for the Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland explained: “Simplified planning zones are quite an old concept, but have not been used during these last couple of decades. They are topical though, the Scottish Government is currently outlining a programme of planning reform, and within this they have sought applications for pilot housing simplified planning zones. The pilots will receive a small amount of funding from Government, and will help explore how they could be used more widely to support housing delivery. Clearly the Borders project is for industrial use, not housing, but it’s worth noting that the Scottish Government is enthusiastic about this approach.”