Innerleithen gap site frustration, but Parker closes door on council intervention

DESPITE conceding that a gap site in the middle of Innerleithen is an eyesore, Scottish Borders Council has no intentions of taking ownership through a compulsory purchase order (CPO), writes Andrew Keddie.

That was the message from leader David Parker following an impassioned plea for action from Tweeddale East councillor Gavin Logan at last week’s full council meeting.

Mr Logan cited the recent SBC decision to spend £125,000 demolishing a derelict and unsafe building in Jedburgh’s High Street, having executed a CPO to acquire it from private ownership.

And he asked if Mr Parker felt a similar course of action was appropriate over the Innerleithen High Street site – once a cafe with a house above – which was demolished more than two decades ago by the former Borders Regional Council, but has been left to deteriorate ever since.

Mr Parker said the council had powers under various legislation to exercise compulsory purchase over private property, but it needed to have an objective in mind.

“We need a plan or scheme we want to achieve, but in the absence of any viable scheme for the Innerleithen site, a CPO would not, in my view, be justified,” he explained.

He said the two sites were not comparable as in Jedburgh the building was in a perilous condition and posed a risk to public safety. Interest in creating five affordable flats had also been indicated by a registered social landlord.

“With regard to Innerleithen, efforts by the council to obtain investment from affordable housing providers have been unsuccessful.”

Mr Logan was unconvinced, telling Mr Parker: “Are you aware of the frustration felt by the people of the town when they see the largesse bestowed on more high-profile towns in the Borders? Apart from having to look at this eyesore for more than two decades, the town has had to endure several brickbats in recent years.

“Bearing this in mind, would you not consider investigating the use of the site for affordable housing and bringing a report back to the council within six months?”

Mr Parker said he knew the site very well and stressed social work staff had worked hard with housing providers to find a possible solution.

“No viable scheme has emerged and, given the nature of the site, it is unlikely to emerge in the near future. I agree the site is an eysore, but I do not believe we should pursue this further.”

Mr Logan said later that Mr Parker’s response was “unconvincing”.

“The only difference between the sites in the two towns is the 20 years between demolitions.

“It is an appalling blight on the landscape of Innerleithen and I will continue to press to bring this long-running saga to an end.”