Planning appeal sees change of use policy called into question

L-r, John McLaren, William Brown, Andrew McQueen, Ian Purvis, Rick Kenney and Tony Brown (wheelchair) stand outside 82 Channel Street.
L-r, John McLaren, William Brown, Andrew McQueen, Ian Purvis, Rick Kenney and Tony Brown (wheelchair) stand outside 82 Channel Street.

A PLANNING policy restricting change of use is damaging Galashiels town centre, claims the firm representing a fitness suite applicant.

Agents Oak Green have criticised the ruling which led to Scottish Borders Council refusing a bid by Christina Burns to open a new fitness facility at the former Birthday’s store in Channel Street.

Planning officials say approving the application would lead to the loss of a retail unit, but Oak Green argue the policy quoted by officers is leaving the town littered with empty premises.

Ms Burns’ appeal against SBC’s decision will be heard by the local review body on Monday, and has the backing of Galashiels Community Council.

Outlining the reasons for the appeal, Oak Green said there were a number of other empty Channel Street stores, all of which are adversely affecting the town centre.

The statement, on behalf of Ms Burns, continues: “Although the fitness suite is not a retail unit, it will be attracting members to Channel Street which we believe will generate footfall for other retailers in the area, with members picking up shopping on their way to and from the club.

“If these units are not being used the policy itself is damaging the vitality and viability of the town centre by allowing these units to sit empty when businesses are willing to take them on and invest in the town centre.

“We understand that the council is bound by conflicting policy, and possibly outdated in the current economic climate, but as this is the only issue against approval, in our opinion there is no sound reason why permission should not be granted.”

But planning officer Carlos Clarke wrote in August when refusing the application: “The proposed use would be contrary to Policy ED4 of the Consolidated Local Plan 2011 in that it would result in the loss of a retail unit and introduce a non-retail use into the prime retail frontage at this location.

“It has not been demonstrated that the proposed use would safeguard the vitality and vibrancy of the town centre.

“Material considerations, including the vacancy of the unit and the current economic climate, have been accounted for, but do not outweigh the conflict with Policy ED4.”

Rick Kenney has written to SBC on behalf of his fellow community councillors in support of the appeal.

He told TheSouthern: “The application was refused because of a planning policy which says it would result in a retail unit being lost. However, there are a number of empty shops in the town at the moment and this would help bring one back into use.

“A lot of the empty shops in Galashiels are covered in fly posters and look scruffy, including this one, but approval could result in a new town centre facility for gym users.”

He added: “There are also bigger issues, such as unhealthy eating and obesity in Scotland, and the demands these place on the health services. Surely it has got to be a good thing if people can access a fitness suite.”

The problems for town centre stores in Galashiels – and in other Borders towns – was highlighted in a recent footfall survey by SBC, which showed trade across the region has fallen by up to a third during the last four years.