Opposition mounting to Melrose school’s inflatable pitch bid

Opposition is mounting to a bid by St Mary’s School in Melrose to site a sports pitch covered by an inflated dome in a field on the town’s outskirts.

Les Ainslie in the field next to his house.
Les Ainslie in the field next to his house.

More than 40 individual objections to the application have been posted on Scottish Borders Council’s online planning site, as well as reservations being expressed by Historic Environment Scotland and the council’s own archaeology department, given the proposed structure’s proximity to the town’s abbey.

The pitch would be an all-weather alternative for pupils but would also be made available to community groups.

Its design has come in for criticism, however.

Melrose Abbey

Most of the individual objections point to the closeness of the site to Melrose Abbey, with objectors describing the proposed facility a “big balloon” and an “unsightly blob”.

Others claim wildlife habitats would be put in danger.

Les Ainslie raised the matter at a meeting of the town’s community council in January to protest about the plans, and he says he has been heartened by the level of support shown for his opposition.

He told us: “I’m very heartened to think that people who don’t neccessarily live in the immediate vicinity but perhaps walk their dogs here feel strongly about this. The response has been tremendous.

“Someone I know at the council told me they were surprised the application has not been dropped given the amount of objections.

“The school won’t come out of this smelling of roses whatever it does, but if it was to drop the plans now, perhaps the community would look on it a little more kindly.

“Although the number of objections should mean this will never get passed, we who are involved are still sitting waiting.

“Meetings of the planning committee appear to have been postponed indefinitely due to coronavirus restrictions.

“If the council went raving mad and approved it, I would have to move. I couldn’t stay here with that outside.”

The Southern contacted the school this week, but, as it is the Easter holiday, no one was available to give us an update.

Robin Chisholm, Melrose Community Council’s planning spokesman, said: “We cannot support this application.

“At our recent meeting, there were very strong objections brought to us from members of the public and there have been many other members of the public raising their opposition to this application since our meeting.

“There appears to be no justification for this facility on the proposed site.

“Although community use of the proposed facility is promised, the community council is unaware of any community desire for this facility.

“The look of the dome is totally out of keeping with anything locally and will appear like a serious blot on the landscape.”

Historic Environment Scotland also objected to the proposals due to what it describes as a lack of detail in the proposals.

Keith Elliott, the council’s acting archaeology officer, added that there would have to be an archaeological evaluation before anywork begins.

Only one letter in favour of the plans has been sent in so far, from a member of Tennis Borders.