Row over fate of new saplings at hotel site

The developer building the new Borders Gateway project in Tweedbank has defended its right to pull up trees planted at the site by local Extinction Rebellion members.

Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 10:49 am
Updated Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 11:02 am
Members of the Scottish Borders Extinction Rebellion Group hold a night-time vigil for their missing saplings at the site after developer New Land Assets pulled them up.

New Land Assets is building a Premier Inn hotel, a BP petrol station and a Costa coffee drive-through at the site, situated next to the Melrose roundabout on the A6091.

Just before Christmas, workers almost completely cleared the site of trees, a move which angered members of the Extinction Rebellion Scottish Borders (XRSB) group – tied to the wider national climate change activisits.

The move shocked some people, and concerns were relayed at this month’s meeting of Melrose’s Community Council.

How the Borders Gateway Development will look, with replanting to the left of the picture.

At the meeting, community councillor Dorothy Cameron said: “I’m really shocked by the sudden clearance of trees at the site ... should there not be a policy where trees are not felled until they absolutely have to.

“In the present climate we really need to keep our trees as long as possible.”

And chairman William Windram agreed, saying: “I think everyone was shocked to see that sudden openness at the roundabout.

“It does look terrible.”

This week, a spokesperson for XRSB said: “Mature carbon capturing woodland on the site, that also provided effective screening, was clear-felled at the end of last year, with the approval of Scottish Borders Council planning officers and elected members.”

The group said that replanting trees at a later date was unacceptable, and, thanks to the gift of some saplings from the Greener Melrose group, had taken it upon themselves to plant them along the boundary of the site.

But they have since been pulled up by the developer.

Chairman of Greener Melrose, Donald McPhillimy said: “Greener Melrose was pleased to supply a number of young trees to help replace the strip of woodland brutally removed from beside the Tweedbank roundabout.

“These sapling trees were all native species and had been carefully raised from seed and tended until they were a plantable size.

“This takes time and dedication.

“We need trees now more than ever before, to lock up carbon and for wildlife.

“All new developments should ensure that existing woodland is protected to the greatest possible extent. We fear that this has not been the case at Tweedbank.”

A vigil was held by a small group of XRSB supporters at the site on Sunday evening in protest about the removal of trees and saplings.

One member commented: “We question the values and priorities of Scottish Borders Council and elected members in times of a climate emergency. How can they hold such a cavalier attitude to the felling of established carbon capturing mature woodland, in favour of extended tarmac forecourts for a mighty new BP fossil fuel outlet?

“This is a curious way to play your part in tackling a climate crisis.”

However, New Land Assets managing director Duncan Hamilton said that the existing trees had to be felled to level off the area ahead of building.

He said: “The trees needed to be felled to allow us to create a level platform to build off. This would not be possible without the removal of the trees.

“A detailed survey of the trees was carried out as part of the planning process to ensure we retained as many trees as possible and the results were agreed with Scottish Borders Council. For the avoidance of doubt, the strategy of felling the trees and replanting was agreed with the council and our approach was made clear during the two-year public consultation exercise.”

He claimed the saplings have found new homes elsewhere.

He said: “I can advise that the saplings planted on our site without permission by the local extinction rebellion group have been donated to other local sites, including the “Space to Grow” project at the Borders General Hospital.

“A detailed scheme for replanting and landscaping was agreed with the council as part of the planning permission granted in September 2019 and we look forward to implementing the scheme as part of the main works. In the meantime we are delighted the saplings have found a good home.”

A spokesman for the council confirmed: “The original trees that were removed were done so under the terms of the planning consent. There is a planning condition in place to ensure retained trees are protected when the development itself commences.”