A long-vacant Galashiels store is finally to be brought back into use now a dispute with council planners has been resolved.
Business boss Robin Purdie applied to Scottish Borders Council to convert 37 Bank Street into a mortgage shop but was refused permission despite the building having lain empty for the last two years.
The property, previously home to a greengrocer’s called the Spud Shed, is currently categorised as a retail or food outlet, and converting it into a financial services outlet requires planning consent for change of use.
Mr Purdie, of High Cross Avenue in Melrose, wrote to the council demanding a review, saying: “We are an independent mortgage brokerage and are going to rebrand our company to Borders Mortgage Hub upon moving.
“We are currently based in Edinburgh, but I am a born and bred Borderer who has been arranging mortgages around the Borders for the last 18 years.
“Thus far, change of use has been declined even though the property has been empty and on the market for two years, at least one local person will be recruited upon us arriving, we will bring an awful lot more footfall than the shop has produced over the last two years and our presence will greatly enhance the area.
“Finally, a dog-grooming business was granted planning permission very recently at the next-door property.
“This company appears to be a one-man business, and that property was on the market for a lot less time than No 37.
“As it stands, we find the refusal to be, at best, strange given the point above and, at worst, borderline discriminatory against professional services businesses.
“It does not really give the impression that Galashiels is open to inward investment from businesses that want to relocate there.”
Footfall in Borders town centres has fallen dramatically over the last decade, leading to an increase in empty shops.
Galashiels has been especially hard hit, with a recent survey showing that 37 retail units are currently standing empty in the town centre.
Recently, the council agreed to relax restrictions on businesses opening up in Galashiels as part of a retail pilot aimed at reversing the ongoing decline in footfall and occupancy rates.
Leisure businesses, professional or financial services and non-residential institutions will now be tolerated along the town’s two main shopping streets, and businesses such as tattoo shops and travel agents will be able to open providing they can prove they will generate footfall.
At a meeting of the council’s local review body today, councillors agreed that the benefits of a shop being occupied far outweigh it staying vacant to comply with red tape and voted to overturn their planning department’s initial refusal.
Jedburgh councillor Scott Hamilton said: “I think this is very straightforward, and I’m leaning towards approval.
“One thing they’ve made clear is that this is not a start-up business. It’s a business which is seven years old, so it has got a base of customers behind it and is already established in that area of work.
“What I would like to note is that there are no appointments needed, meaning the shop will have that extra bit of trade from people just going in for a look. I think that maintains a shop frontage and adds to the retail area.
“On that basis, I think they’ve worked within our new policy and have shown what they could add to Bank Street as a business moving in.”
Galashiels councillor Andy Anderson also spoke in favour of granting approval too, saying: “I’m very much in agreement with what councillor Hamilton is saying. Taking into account our pilot study, I think this is suitable, although, had this been a regular financial services business, I might have a slightly different viewpoint.
“Because this operates as a drop-in service, for me that means it’ll add a certain amount of footfall to the area.”
Councillors voted unanimously to overturn their officers’ decision and grant planning permission to Mr Purdie.