Plans for a multi-million-pound hotel, petrol station and drive-through coffee shop in Tweedbank are being recommended for approval by council planners.
If given the thumbs-up, the £12m Borders Gateway development would be made up of a 70-bed Premier Inn, BP petrol station, Marks and Spencer food kiosk and drive-through Costa cafe.
Developer New Land Assets’ original plans for the site included a larger discount food retail unit, but due to concerns over the impact it might have on town centres nearby, that part of the proposals was scrapped, leading to the number of jobs expected to be created being revised down from 100 to 80.
The Edinburgh-based developer also predicts that 95 jobs will be created during the development’s construction phase.
Now, Scottish Borders Council planners have published a 30-page report advising the local authority’s planning and building standards committee to approve the proposals, subject to various conditions, possibly as soon as its meeting on Monday September 2.
The report, written by the council’s chief planning officer, Craig Miller, says: “The development is considered acceptable when assessed against the local development plan and supplementary guidance.
“The reduced scheme represents a mix of uses which have largely been identified as being required in the area, maximising on the prominent and gateway position between the A6091 roundabout and the railway terminus.
“Impacts resulting from the uses are considered to be outweighed by the benefits anticipated from the development, including impacts on the woodland boundaries to the site.”
Councillors sitting on the planning committee will have to weigh up objections to the development from residents and businesses alongside that recommendation for approval, however.
Chief among their concerns is the potential impact on traders in Melrose, particularly hoteliers.
Bosses at Burt’s Hotel, the Townhouse Hotel, the Station Hotel, King’s Arms and George and Abbotsford Hotel have submitted a joint objection to the plans.
Their objection, lodged on their behalf by Edinburgh-based consultant Felsham Planning and Development, reads: “Town centres are under threat, and their vitality and viability needs to be protected.
“The nature of Melrose town centre is a material consideration in assessing this proposal.
“The vitality and viability of Melrose depends on wider considerations than retail.
“That vitality and viability will be undermined by a larger hotel than envisaged, accompanied by ancillary development.
“Melrose sets a standard of how town centres should develop, and we would urge your council not to grant consent for a development that could undermine the vitality and viability of the town centre by having a significant impact on the hotel sector.”
Burt’s Hotel boss Nick Henderson is especially fearful of the threat posed by the proposed hotel, warning in a separate objection: “A 70-bedroom hotel on the outskirts of Melrose would be a huge mistake.
“It would be massive overprovision which would jeopardise jobs within long-standing, high-rate-paying businesses in Melrose.
“This is an existential threat which will lead to hotels closing.”
Addressing those fears, Mr Miller writes: “They consider that the size of the hotel will harm existing tourist accommodation providers in the area and that this, in turn, will harm the vitality of Melrose town centre in particular.
“Some objectors envisage a price war and others believe that, with other impacts already occurring such as Airbnb, the market is not there for a hotel of this size in the area.
“Should it be developed, then closures and harm to the local tourist industry are envisaged, especially in the Melrose area.”
However, Mr Miller adds “That this budget hotel offer does not yet exist in the central Borders area – or more widely, for that matter – means that there is a qualitative difference in the provision of hotel bed spaces from those already being provided, with the nature and length of stays offered by traditional town centre hotels being quite different from that offered by this proposal.
“The effect is that the proposed provision should complement, rather than draw from, the accommodation being provided by existing hoteliers locally.
“It is considered that there is insufficient evidence or justification to oppose the proposed hotel on the basis of town centre or economic impact.
“Whilst there will be likely to be some impact on competitors, the planning system is designed not to specifically protect individual operators or inhibit private market competition.
“There are economic benefits which have been identified as a result of the proposals and there is no firm contrary evidence to suggest there would be any particular detrimental effects on town centres such as Melrose or Galashiels.
“Indeed, nearly half of the bedrooms in existing hotel accommodation in Melrose already lie outwith the town centre.”
Melrose Community Council has also objected to the proposals, citing the potential impact on the town’s high street.
Tweedbank Community Council is supporting the development, though, pointing out the economic benefits the site could have for the Borders.
The plans have sparked 177 supporting comments and 15 objections in total.