A five-year housing plan set to see more than £160m invested in affordable housing was approved by Scottish Borders Council on Tuesday.
Members of the authority’s executive committee gave their backing to a strategic housing investment plan expected to lead to almost 1,200 affordable homes being built across the region before 2022.
Welcoming the report, Hawick and Hermitage councillor Ron Smith told members: “This is an ambitious plan in that it will deliver affordable, quality housing for our residents.
“Obviously, this will help stimulate the local economy through creating jobs and training opportunities, with an unparalleled, potential £163m worth of investment over the plan period.”
However, questions over whether the construction sector in the Borders is geared up for that amount of development were raised by Tweeddale East councillor and executive member for economic development, Stuart Bell.
He said: “I welcome the fact that we are trying really hard to dramatically move forward with the number of affordable houses in the Borders, but we are proposing such a significant increase that I am concerned we have not engaged with the construction sector enough.”
In his formal recommendation, later adopted by councillors, Mr Bell added: “I am not happy that adequate signals have been given to the construction sector in order for them to prepare for this.
“I am recommending officers to rapidly engage with the construction sector to inform them of these opportunities and get their feedback on the practicalities before submitting a short report back in six months.”
Further debate followed over the difference between housing need and demand, and questions were also asked about just how thorough the study into the proposed sites had been.
Selkirkshire councillor Vicky Davidson said: “Your assessment on where the need is is based on the demand, but if there are no houses somewhere, then there can be no demand. The housing needs assessments are not particularly accurate if they are based on the housing list.”
Cathy Fancy, group manager of the council’s housing strategy and services team, stressed that the plan is for up to 1,192 houses, but she added: “We will also seek to explore other opportunities along the way. We do have a fairly good picture of where there is not only the demand but the need for affordable housing.”
In the first two years of the new plan, a total of 449 affordable homes are earmarked for delivery across the Borders at locations including Kelso, Lilliesleaf, Duns, Eyemouth and Oxton.
Lowood Estate at Tweedbank accounts for almost a third of the potential housing allocation proposed, having been assessed as suitable to host 300 houses.
The next biggest sites suggested, both lined up to accommodate 100 homes, at Hillview North in Coldstream and Nethershot in Kelso.
Elsewhere in the Borders, Galashiels is in line for 50 new houses, eight at Lintburn Street, 12 at Rose Court and 30 at the former Castle Warehouse site in High Street; Selkirk for 105, 30 at Angles Field and 75 at Heather Mill; Kelso for 70 more, 20 at Tweed Court and 50 at the soon-to-be-vacant Kelso High School site; Hawick for 21, five at Leishman Place, six at Henderson Road and 10 at an old factory site in Fairhurst Drive; Newstead for six, at the Orchard; Peebles for 100, 30 at Rosetta Road and 70 at the March Street mill; Innerleithen for 35, at Caerlee Mill; Ayton for six, north of High Street; and Reston for 38, behind its parish church.
The list of proposed sites will now go to public consultation.