Landscape guidelines dropped despite lobby group’s criticism

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SPECIAL additional planning guidelines for designed landscapes were rejected by councillors at a meeting earlier this month, writes Sally Gillespie.

Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee agreed to drop the council’s proposal to introduce extra guidance for gardens and designed landscapes when considering plans.

The guidelines evolved from a study in 2006 by landscape architect Peter McGowan and garden historian Christopher Dingwall into designed landscapes, including those already recognised nationally such as Abbotsford House.

The aim of the study was to review the extent and quality of designed landscapes in the area and look at ways to promote their management and restoration.

The subsequent draft supplementary planning guidance, considered at a planning committee meeting in 2009, covered 184 sites along with guidance on how to manage and restore them.

The identified landscapes were also proposed for inclusion in Historic Scotland’s records which would then mean they were covered under the council’s local plan.

But a report by principal landscape officer Jim Knight said consultation on the extra guidelines showed mixed reactions and included criticism from the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association (SRPBA).

Overall, he said: “Concerns centred on the implications of the supplementary planning guidelines ... presenting a potential restriction on future planning applications. The purpose of the proposed supplementary planning guidance was to ... increase awareness and to promote and enhance the management of an important cultural asset.

“However in view of the number and range of concerns expressed, it was clear there was no public consensus to support that approach.”

Councillors agreed and the sites identified will also now not go forward to the national records.

But their decision has drawn criticism from the lobby group, Save Scott’s Countryside.

Chairman Charles Humphries said the council’s consultation was not wide enough: “It is evident from reading the report put before councillors that the consultation didn’t reach the wider public but was picked up on by landowners concerned for their future business interests – and it is clear that it was this opposition from SRPBA that has caused the council to back off.”

And he accused the council of ignoring existing protection measures.

“We can see only too plainly, with the present construction of the crematorium at the Wairds cemetery just outside Melrose, how the council can be led by the nose by big business to not just ignore but actively work their way around the supposed protections and safeguardings of our precious assets – in that case the Eildon Hills and the national scenic area.”

He continued: “We demand that our other precious assets like gardens and designed landscapes should have every possible protection. We have absolutely no confidence that ‘other measures’ are in place. The council thought this guidance necessary until this last year and we believe strongly it still is. This appalling decision must be reversed.”

But Councillor Jock Houston said: “The council can only go on the responses it receives during consultation. It can’t second guess the views of those who do not respond.

“In the case of Wairds Cemetery, there was broad support across the central Borders for both the principle and the stunning location. It was not, in my opinion, in any way big business getting its own way.

“Each and every planning application is judged on its own merits and the council has policies to protect our landscape and heritage.”