Judicial review sought over yurts refusal

CONTROVERSY continues to surround the decision by councillors to refuse a planning application for six yurts, a small shop and associated car parking for a holiday site in the Ettrick Valley.

At the meeting of Scottish Borders Council planning committee at the start of this month, councillors voted 5-4 to refuse the application from Nicholas Weeks, who wanted to add the yurts – Mongolian-style tents – community shop and parking to his existing successful holiday cottage business at Newburgh Farm Steading.

SBC roads officer Derek Inglis had even hailed the site in question as “a great location for this type of facility”.

But five councillors disagreed with their own officials’ views and voted against the scheme, with Councillor Michelle Ballantyne (Selkirkshire, Con) moving to refuse because it involved an isolated site with no amenities; had a lack of public transport and that there could be potential problem caused by dogs belonging to people who came to stay in the yurts.

The refusal sparked anger and incredulity among local hotel owners, who slammed the decision as doing nothing to help boost the economy of fragile rural areas such as the Ettrick Valley. And Mr Weeks has been further perplexed after receiving official notification that the refusal was because his application contravened council planning policies.

These were that the proposal would involve the intrusive development of an isolated and exposed site; that it would generate significant noise disruption; a traffic generation problem would be exacerbated by a lack of public transport and that the development would be harmful to the amenities of nearby residents and to the scenic qualities of the area generally.

TheSouthern contacted Councillor Ron Smith (Hawick & Hermitage, LD), executive member for planning at the local authority, who had chaired this month’s planning committee and who himself supported Mr Weeks’ application, for an explanation as to how planning officers could recommend an application be approved one minute, but for the same application to be turned down on the grounds it contravened council planning policies the next.

Mr Smith responded: “It does sometimes happen that interpretations of policy can differ between officers and members, as well as between members themselves, on the perceived impact on the neighbours’ amenity and on the landscape.”

But Mr Weeks intends to appeal against the decision and is also considering lodging a formal complaint with council chief executive, Tracey Logan.

“I have a meeting with a litigation lawyer next week to seek a judicial review.

“This should never have gone before the committee – they 
have shot themselves in the foot with this one and I see no reason why a judicial review will not go ahead.”