Planning policies not to blame

Norman Pender, in his letter published last week, blamed Scottish Borders Council’s planning policies for the economic problems facing the building trade.

Two years ago his application to build a new house on his garden ground was refused and he has claimed that this was just one example of dozens of similar “marginal applications” (as he calls them) being turned down all over the Borders every week.

An astonishing statement. Dozens means at least 24 houses turned down each week. There are 52 weeks in a year so 24 x 52 equals 1,248 houses turned down each year. I checked this on the planning department’s weekly list of all decisions reached by picking four weeks at random – week beginning April 23, 2012: one out of 34 applications was refused; week beginning March 12, 2012: not one out of 34 was refused; week beginning February 6, 2012: one out of 34 refused; week beginning December 5, 2011: one out of 44 refused.

The three refusals were an extension to a house, replacement windows and a wind turbine. Not a single refusal was for a house.

Mr Pender’s claim of 1,248 applications for houses being turned down each year is nonsense, misleading nonsense. In fact the great, great majority of applications for houses are approved. The council, through its planning policies, is not damaging the building trade in the Borders by wholesale refusals. The region’s building trade is suffering, but far more because of the global financial crisis we’ve been in since 2008, to which Norman referred, than because of SBC planning policies.

The crisis has reduced the number of applications for houses and has also deprived developers of the capital to build where they have permission. In Denholm, the nearest village to Norman’s house, there are at least 25 permissions to build, going back years – including one group of 10 houses, one of eight affordable houses and one of seven houses. Not a brick has been laid. None of this is the fault of SBC planning policies.

Mr Pender’s plan to kick-start the Borders building trade is for councillors to amend planning policies to allow one or two of what he calls “marginal applications” for houses each week.

I can’t see it working. For starters he may not be able to find 52 or 104 “marginal applications” each year which were refused, but which he would like to see permitted provided Borders builders were given the work. How does one decide which applications are marginal? There’s no guarantee that applicants given permission to build under his new rules will be able to in the present dire, continuing and seemingly-endless financial crisis.

He claims: “Fifty-two houses spread all over the Borders would not even be noticed.”

I bet they would be noticed by notified neighbours and objectors. Are they to lose their right to have their objections heard and considered? Under the Pender plan there would be a waiver or dispensation from the planning rules for houses going to be put up by Borders builders. You can bet your bottom dollar all developers – of wind farms, wind turbines, industrial premises, you name it – would demand the same relaxation.

If the Pender plan was tried, disappointed applicants from past years would no doubt demand that their applications be reviewed and approved under the new relaxation. The whole thing is unworkable and based on a false premise, if it is not, in fact, illegal.

Jock Houston