Appeal over Tweedbank soft-play area plans rejected

The former Barbour factory on Tweedbank industrial estate.
The former Barbour factory on Tweedbank industrial estate.

Councillors have again rejected plans to open a children’s soft-play area and CrossFit gym in Tweedbank.

The owner of the former Barbour factory at Tweedside Park, Melrose-based JSC Properties, appealed to Scottish Borders Council’s local review body after the authority’s planning committee turned down its proposals back in August, but it fared no better second time round.

The proposals would have created eight jobs at the site, vacant since 2014, and would have seen an adjoining cafe opened too.   

In a written statement pleading their case to councillors, a spokesperson for Galashiels-based Ferguson Planning, representing JSC Properties, said: “There are a number of material considerations which indicate that the application can be supported despite the proposal being contrary to normally permitted uses in Tweedside Park.

“The proposals will lead to job creation, the vacant space has been actively and continually marketed since 2014 with no success for uses which comply with the employment land allocation, existing unit occupiers would be unaffected and there is significant demand for the proposals.

As evidence of the demand for a gym and soft-play area at the site, the developer submitted a survey revealing 330 Borders residents’ views on the proposals.

When asked ‘do you feel that a soft-play area with cafe and CrossFit training facility would be a worthwhile addition to the Tweedbank industrial estate?’, 95% of respondents answered in the affirmative, 90% said they would visit the soft-play area and 71% said they’d use the gym.

The spokesperson added: “The proposals would be allocated in vacant or sterilised space which does not contribute to the employment land allocation, there is significant oversupply of business and industrial space in the central Borders and the vacancy rate for units within Tweedbank is considerable.

“There are no alternative sites locally to site the proposed soft-play facility, and no land at all is allocated for such facilities in the Borders.”

However, at the local review body’s meeting today, November 19, councillors voted to reject the appeal as they feel the site should be set aside for industrial use in light of the economic benefits the Borders Railway is expected to bring.

Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison said: “I think it’s a little early to start giving away our industrial land in the railway corridor.

“I’m also not minded to give away industrial land until this country has something resembling stability.

“I can see why people want this and why people want to do it, but I think it’s a bit early to start giving away industrial land this early in the development plan.”

Kelso councillor Simon Mountford also spoke in favour of rejecting the application, saying: “It’s a difficult one. You’ve got a situation with an empty site which is not doing anyone any favours, and what we have here is an application that is going to create jobs.

“Officers have accepted there is a need for a soft-play centre, just not here. They say this is a positive thing but the applicants should look at alternative sites.

“However, soft-play sites require these types of building. It’s a catch-22 for these kinds of applications.

“That said, I do come down on the side of our officers because it’s too early in in the day to just give up on this kind of development.”

Two councillors – Helen Laing, of East Berwickshire, and Andy Anderson, of Galashiels – voted in favour of the proposals as they believe the site has been vacant for too long.

Ms Laing said: “There is a demand for this type of business, and the site has been empty since 2014.

“It’s not contributing much if it’s sat empty.

“The site sitting empty does nothing for the economy.

“A demand has been demonstrated, and the gym already has people coming in.”

Mr Anderson added: “I do feel that being empty for four years means other businesses may not want to move in.”

Councillors voted by four to two to stand by the authority’s rejection of the application.