Councillor calls for pragmatic view as focus returns to Netherbarns site

Cll. Bill Herd at the site of the proposed Netherbarnes housing development on the outskirts of galashiels.
Cll. Bill Herd at the site of the proposed Netherbarnes housing development on the outskirts of galashiels.

when it comes to building new homes on a controversial site directly opposite the historic Abbotsford home of novelist Sir Walter Scott near Galashiels, people need to take a pragmatic attitude and remember this is the 21st century and not the 18th.

That’s what SNP Councillor Bill Herd – a councillor for a ward in Tweeddale, but born and raised in Galashiels – believes.

Mr Herd was speaking during a debate on the Local Plan at last week’s session of the full Scottish Borders Council, at which the controversial subject of a large site at Netherbarns on the outskirts of Galashiels being used for housing cropped up again.

Members were discussing a main issues report and environmental report, which will now go out for public consultation.

The seven-hectare site between Galashiels and Selkirk has been included as a possible option for discussion as a housing site for up to 45 new homes.

Kelso-based housebuilders M & J Ballantyne bought the land for around £2million in December 2005, and six months later was granted consent by SBC’s planning committee to build 79 detached houses, despite objections from a variety of conservation groups concerned about the visual impact on Abbotsford.

However, the objections of Scottish Government agency Historic Scotland saw a public inquiry being held and determining, in September 2007, that the Ballantyne application should be refused.

The site was also proscribed from housing development in another public inquiry into SBC’s new draft Local Plan and, in 2007, Scottish Government officials also ruled out the site as a possible location for a new school. Speaking during the debate last week, Councillor Nicholas Watson (Leaderdale & Melrose BP), who also led the original Save Scott’s Countryside campaign against the proposed new houses, was adamant the Netherbarns site should be removed from this latest list of possible housing areas.

“What is it about Netherbarns that this council seems not to understand,” he said. “I thought several public enquiries had already shown it was not a good idea to spoil the setting of what is an internationally important building and landscape. It would be very foolish of this council to bring this forward again. Yet it is quite clear from this report that it is being looked at yet again for a suburban housing development.

“But I can’t think of any other civilised developed country that would allow something like this in the middle of one of their national treasures.”

However, councillors heard from planning officers that a “significant change” had now been detected in Historic Scotland’s views on the matter, which were that some sort of sensitive development could take place on the site.

After listening patiently to Mr Watson, it was at this point that Mr Herd urged fellow councillors to take a more pragmatic and realistic attitude.

“If you are driving along the A7 from Galashiels towards Selkirk, it is impossible to see Abbotsford from the road at Netherbarnes. And I would be surprised if that was not the reciprocal situation from anyone at Abbotsford looking towards the A7.”

Mr Herd pointed out that in the seven years since winning the by-election sparked by the death of Riddle Dumble, he had not received a single letter, email or phonecall from anyone complaining about the proposed housing at Netherbarns.

“Yet I continually hear all this guff about it being Scott’s countryside. It isn’t Scott’s countryside because this isn’t the 18th century – it’s the 21st century – and I am calling on this chamber to listen to those entitled to represent Galashiels.”