Housing on much-loved Gala woodland would be a ‘road too far’

Fears that a public road is going to be driven right through the middle of the beloved Galashiels Policies are premature, concerned townsfolk have been advised.

By Paul Kelly
Monday, 18th January 2021, 1:27 pm
Updated Wednesday, 20th January 2021, 1:21 pm
Hollybush in Galashiels.
Hollybush in Galashiels.

That has sounded alarm bells amongst concerned members of the public over what implications it could have for Gala Policies, with fears over widespread tree felling to accommodate access to any new development.

Those concerns have been voiced in particular on the Gala Policies group’s Facebook page, with calls for the community woodland on the outskirts of the town to be protected.

In response to the growing concerns, Galashiels and District councillor Sandy Aitchison sought to address the fears and what he described as the ‘emotive language’ being used over the issue, during a zoom meeting of the council’s community council last week.

He said: “The use of emotive language that there is going to be a road through the middle of the Policies is completely wrong, completely wrong.

“What the Local Development Plan says is that the masterplan will have to consider the road’s access to the site.

“It does not say there is going to be a road driven through the Policies and so let’s clarify that and take the emotive language out of this.

“It is absolutely true that it has been in the plan for five years and it will remain in the plan for five years, I am absolutely convinced, because I do not see anybody coming up with the money to create the infrastructure to get to this site.”

The committee’s vice chair Rick Kenney acknowledged that townsfolk had a legitimate right to raise their concerns.

He said: “The Galashiels element to this proposed new development plan is 14 pages with 14 sites identified for potential housing development and all of those have been announced since the first plan in 2016, so none of them should be a surprise to us, we have already seen them and previously made the odd comments on them.

“There has been real concern about roads going through the Policies and things like that. What I have heard from the planners is that any potential for detail about Hollybush Valley is going to be based on the outcome of the site of the new Gala Academy and that when that is resolved and what the access roads are potentially going to be we will have a lot more facts to be able to discuss issues about the Policies and the access going south west to Hollybush.

“It’s very much a kind of future gazing exercise. There is no detail at all about where exactly it would be. Is it going to be all houses? Is it going to be other things that give employment? Is it going to be a community centre and where exactly the roads would be.

“However, stuff has been on the Gala Policies Facebook site, and rightly in my view, showing concern about further potential for tree felling and they are very protective, and I think we would all be supportive of that, but what the planners are saying is that they cannot say where our roads will be and whether it will be one road or two roads and which direction it will go because the start of all that in the Balmoral area.”

The council’s Local Development Plan says the Hollybush areas will be “subject to further assessment and require a masterplan to ensure coherent and holistic approach” to their futures.

The potential for some sort of development on the Gala Policies goes back almost half a century.

The woodland, once part of the grounds of the estate of the Laird of Gala, was purchased by Selkirk County Council in 1974 for housing. New Gala House, within the grounds, was bought separately in order for a flats complex to be built.

Those development plans eventually came to nothing and the house was demolished in 1987.

Then, in 1990, Scottish Borders Council wanted to base its sporting facilities on the site, alongside executive homes.

It was at that time that the Friends of Gala Policies launched a successful campaign to prevent that and to have the area redesignated as a community woodland.

The present chair of the group, Jill Forsyth, had just moved to Galashiels when that campaign was launched 30 years ago.

Now she has called on anyone with concerns over the development proposal to raise them with Scottish Borders Council. Jill said the woodland had proved a godsend during the pandemic and should not be tampered with.

She explained: “The Policies consists of a variety of ecosystems - mature mixed woodland, woodland pasture, a pond and wet areas. It supports a diversity of trees, plants, birds insects and mammals. This year Roe deer have been spotted and even an otter.

“The Policies are much loved and used by dog walkers, Southern Upland Way walkers cyclist and runners. They have been a godsend for so many over the last year - a invaluable calming space for exercise during the chaos and uncertainty brought about by Covid-19 and lockdowns. The group’s main concern is the proposed road cutting through the Policies to service the possible development of the Hollybush area.

“Such a road would hugely impact on the green space of the Policies and Hollybush area in general and would encroach on the rest of the ecosystems.”

Members of the public who would like to have their say on the issue are asked to do so before next Monday, January 25, at https://scotborders.citizenspace.com.