Father makes emotional plea for new home approval

A Heriot family has been given permission to build a new home on a greenfield site despite councillors being told it went against planning policy.

Andy Smith made an emotional statement to a meeting of the planning committee on Monday, when members heard the family’s home of 20 years had been subject to a compulsory purchase order for the Borders Railway.

Mr Smith said their application for a house and workshop next to the A7 at Falahill Farm was the result of “10 years of uncertainty” as their current home near Heriot was not initially included in the properties to be acquired for the railway.

He added that searches for suitable homes or land for a new build in the immediate area had proved fruitless.

“Over the past 20 years we’ve made Heriot our home, and home for our children, and we hope you will look favourably on this exceptional case for the construction of a new home to replace the one we are about to lose,” Mr Smith told the committee.

In recommending refusal, senior development manager John Hayward told the committee that the application went completely against the housing in the countryside planning policy and that there was no justification for the workshop on the site.

He added that there was no “compelling evidence” that the site was the only one available in the Heriot area.

But following an extensive debate councillors voted five to two in favour of a motion to grant planning permission.

Councillor Jim Brown, who moved the motion to go against he officer’s recommendation, said: “Generally I feel that with any major civil engineering woks, such as the Borders Railway, there is going to be winners and losers.

“My first response is that Mr Smith has spent a great deal of time to see if he could find a site nearer the village, with no success, but has now found a site and I would like to turn Mr Smith and his family from losers to winners.”

Councillor Donald Moffat seconded Councillor Brown’s motion, stating: “I think this is definitely an exceptional case.”

Councillors Michelle Ballantyne, Simon Mountford and Jim Fullarton supported the approval of the application, with Stuart Bell and chairman Ron Smith voting against it, despite being sympathetic to the situation faced by the Smith family.

Councillor Bell said: “What we have got here is the most extreme example of a proposal for housing in the countryside.”

He added that he was concerned about the visibility of the development from the A7.

Councillor Smith added: “This is a very, very complex situation we find ourselves in. I am sympathetic to the situation Mr and Mrs Smith find themselves in, but we are talking about driving coach and horses through our planning policies.

“This is a greenfield site, is not part of a building group, is not related to a building group and there is no economic justification for it being there.”

To prevent further building on the plot a legal agreement will be drawn up which will also tie the workshop to the house and require the family to live there for at least three years.

Landscaping to screen the site will also be required.