Controversial plans to build a pair of three-and-a-half-storey tower blocks on the banks of the River Tweed have been rejected by councillors.
Eildon Housing Association unveiled plans for Tweedbridge Court in Peebles, in August last year, triggering a flurry of objections from townsfolk concerned about the size of the original development, standing a full four storeys above the banks of the river.
That public outcry prompted the Selkirk-based association’s agent, Edinburgh’s Camerons Architects, to submit revised plans lowering the buildings to three-and-a-half storeys, taking 70cm off their overall height.
However, residents remained opposed to the plans, with Scottish Borders Council receiving 186 objections.
At a packed meeting of the council’s planning and building standards committee yesterday, February 4, Tweeddale East councillors Shona Haslam and Stuart Bell both voiced concerns about the 40-flat development.
Council leader Mrs Haslam said: “The local community is absolutely not against affordable housing on this site.
“We want to work with Eildon, who we value as a social housing provider, to come up with a design that works, but we feel that the mass of the buildings, their design and the height of the development would impact too severely in its current form on views of the town and are not in keeping architecturally with the wider context of the town.”
Mr Bell added: “I don’t find the design and character of the building unacceptable.
“My concern is the protection of residential amenity – the blocks are too high.
“I can see why, though. To get the finances to work with the necessary numbers of affordable houses, which by their nature have to be a dense build, the developer has to go up and then again to get above the flood plain, but even at the reduced three-and-a-half storeys, there is too much overlooking onto the low-rise properties that surround this proposal.
“For me, it is a storey too high for my constituents who live to the south and west of the site.
“I have read all the sight line calculations, but for many of my constituents, not just the directly adjacent properties, this will become a dominant building that overlooks them.”
A previous building on the site was owned and run by Edinburgh-based social landlord Margaret Blackwood Housing Association, but after it fell into disrepair, the site was bought by Eildon Housing Association and it demolished the old building.
Association chief executive Nile Istephan told the committee: “One point of agreement here is that there is recognisably a need for very significant affordable housing in the town.
“However, in order to satisfy that need, we have to actually turn ideas into real homes that people can then live in.
“This site was declared by Margaret Blackwood Housing Association as something that was in need of replacing over 15 years ago.
“They couldn’t find a solution, so they ended up running the property down and closing it.
“It was a derelict building for over two years until we demolished it.
“Over that period, that organisation sought to work in partnership with a range of developers who couldn’t find a viable proposal for this site.
“That should give the committee an indication as to the challenges and issues related to this particular site which this proposal seeks to overcome.”
Gavin Yule, representing Camerons Architects, added: “An extensive design process was carried out, taking on board both planning officer and public comments.
“This development clearly shows willingness to respond to feedback. The building height in particular was reduced by 700mm following consultation and 3.9m in relation to the height of the eaves.
“The proposal is lower than the neighbouring fire tower and the tops of the surrounding trees.”
Despite widespread opposition, officers recommended that councillors approve the development.
Principal planning officer Barry Fotheringham said: “The proposal represents a significant development within Peebles.
“The site is allocated within the local development plans as a redevelopment opportunity, and the proposed land use and volume of accommodation proposed ensures that this site is being redeveloped in accordance with its allocation.
“This site is sensitive and the suitability of the scale of the development has been challenging.
“The revised design has reduced the visual scale and mass of the proposals.
“It is considered that, on balance, that the revised development enables this site to be redeveloped in a manner that meets local affordable housing demands in a manner which does not cause significant demonstrable harm to the character and appearance of the surrounding area, including the adjacent conservation area and listed buildings.
“The proposal is considered consistent with the 2016 local development plan and supplementary planning guidance, having accounted for other material considerations.”
Committee members agreed to conduct a site visit and, after being told they were on their statutory deadline for making a decision, adjourned the meeting for a couple of hours to head to Peebles.
Upon returning, it was clear that a majority of councillors felt the proposed development would be too high.
Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison said: “In terms of the layout, the density is too much. I think it’s still too high.”
Jedburgh councillor Scott Hamilton agreed, saying: “My concern is the mass of the building. I believe the Scottish word for it would be muckle.
“What we have here is a building which cannot be adequately disguised, if that’s the right word.
“I don’t think it would ever, at that size, be in keeping with the area.
“There’s no context for a huge development like that along the river’s edge.
“This going to be visible from quite a number of points, including the conservation area, so I’d move against this application.”
Councillors voted by six votes to three to reject the plans.