Villagers’ protests halt bid to call time on old Borders hotel

People power has led to plans for a historic pub’s conversion into an office for a plumbing company being blocked.

By Paul Kelly
Tuesday, 18th February 2020, 5:01 pm
The Tower Hotel in Oxton Main Street.
The Tower Hotel in Oxton Main Street.

Stephen Walker’s retrospective application for the Tower Hotel in Main Street in Oxton to become home to WHE Plumbing and Heating and Walker Home Emergency sparked more than 60 objections from villagers.

According to locals, the hotel, though run down in recent years, has been an important part of village life for 117 years and, being the only such place for them to meet and socialise, is vital for community spirit.

Mr Walker bought the Tower 10 years ago and applied for planning permission to convert it into four flats two years later.

That bid was refused, and it then reopened as a pub with restricted opening hours, but it closed in May last year.

Since then, it has become apparent that a business is being operated from its dining room, lounge and public bar without planning approval.

Residents say that has led to the loss of a key village amenity as the nearest alternative pub is five miles away and it isn’t seved by public transport in the evenings.

Villagers say pubs in other villages such as Greenlaw and Westruther are thriving, so there is no reason for the Tower not to be equally successful if properly managed.

Dougie MacWhinnie, one of the objectors, said: “The Tower Hotel, which has been trading since the 1900s, is a vital amenity for the village and important part of village heritage which has been for many generations a place to meet, enjoy a meal or benefit from bed and breakfast.

“The Tower Hotel is the only amenity of its kind in the village, and to take it away altogether leaves the village without this option and would impact on our close-knit community.

“Changing the purpose of the building from the current to the proposed has no benefit to the village at all. It’s disheartening to see the village pub being used as an office.”

Jonathan Newton, another objector, added: “The bar area is listed in a regional and UK national guide on historically significant pub interiors produced by the Campaign for Real Ale, and any threat to it would not only be a loss to the village but a loss to the wider public.”

A spokesperson for Mr Walker said the hotel has been on the market since September 2019 but attracted no interest, adding: “There was insufficient community support to make the business viable, so the loss of the hotel would not have an adverse effect on the community, and the current use ensures the building is maintained and occupied.

“The offices are occupied during working hours so do not detract from the amenities of the area. There is no suitable office accommodation in the local area. The use as a hotel would have generated more traffic at peak times.

“The business employs six members of staff and there is adequate off-street parking.”

In her report refusing planning permission for the change of use, lead planning officer Julie Hayward says: “It has not been demonstrated that the loss of the hotel will not have adverse impacts on the local community, will offer significant wider public and community benefits and will not detract from the character and amenity of the village.