Plans for a 64-home affordable housing estate in Newtown have been given the go-ahead despite concerns over school capacity and the possible closure of the village’s doctors’ surgery.
Edinburgh-based Hart Builders is planning to construct the estate to the north of Sergeants Park and to the west of Newtown Primary School on behalf of Eildon Housing Association.
As part of Scottish Borders Council’s local development plan, Newtown has been identified as having potential to host 900 new homes, and the new estate is the first stage in a wider transformation of the village.
However, the plans have met with objections from residents, and Newtown and Eildon Community Council fears they could exert additional pressure on Newtown’s GP surgery, primary school and sewerage system.
Because the estate will be entirely made up of affordable housing, the association and builder will be exempt from paying developer contributions, and that’s a cause for concern for the community council.
In a written objection, community councillor Roger French says: “For over 10 years, the community council and the village have been led to believe that the new housing developments in Scottish Borders Council’s local plan would be beneficial to Newtown St Boswells as a result of developer contributions.
“This would not only fund the expansion of the existing community services to accommodate the growth – for example, school, health facilities sewage plant, road infrastructure and play facilities – but also to help fund additional benefits like an improved or new village centre.
“The first objection is that this proposed development will provide no developer contribution apart from providing token funds to cover additional playground equipment.
“The 64 dwellings potentially represent some 147 additional residents, who will be using existing community services under strain already, and this is unacceptable.
“The second objection is that this planning application does not comply with Scottish Borders Council’s development framework for the village which has a core objective to co-ordinate developments in the village to prevent piecemeal development.
“All the developments in the framework are mixed house developments comprising 75% private housing and 25% affordable or social housing.
“Maintaining this ratio is important since without the private housing, no developer contribution is available to fund the enlarged community.”
Despite those and other objections, council planning officers recommended that the development be approved, and that advice was heeded at a meeting of the council’s planning and building standards committee today, January 7.
Kelso councillor Simon Mountford said: “It’s important we do approve it because affordable housing is important and it’s something we should support.
“I would make one comment, however. It’s incredibly important that affordable housing is is not distinguishable from mainstream forms of housing. I think it’s incredibly important we do that.
“I’m not concerned about this particular application, but the general principle is something we do need to ensure. The design must be indistinguishable.”
Galashiels councillor Andy Anderson shared the concerns of the community council but came down in favour of the development, saying: “The issue we had before was about about school capacity, and with it being affordable housing we know there’s no prospect of contributions from the developer towards the school.
“However, the report from officers says that although the development will bring the school to near capacity, it can be absorbed.
“My other concern was about the GP surgery, but unfortunately the decision of the owner is not material to this discussion.
“I wonder if more housing might actually help the possibility of keeping it open.”