A planning row resulting in CCTV cameras being installed and accusations of harassment from both sides is set to be determined by councillors on Monday next week.
Robert and Lynda Jones, of Heiton, near Kelso, want to remove a planning condition imposed on them by Scottish Borders Council stating that they must maintain a public right of way running alongside the home they built on hitherto-unused land at Ladyrig.
The Joneses maintain that the path is not a historic right of way as they say previous maps from Ordnance Survey Scotland and the National Library of Scotland show it either missing or running along a different course.
However, angry neighbours have lodged 28 objections to the plans and have also submitted a petition backed by 21 signatures.
Locals say that the Joneses have erected large gates at either side of the path and have installed CCTV along the side of the house, giving the impression the path has already been blocked off.
Sharon Keen, of Ladyrig, writes in her objection: “The footpath has always been regularly used and continues to be so despite the applicants’ actions in removing signage to discourage visitors from exercising their lawful rights to use the path.
“It has come to my notice, and I have witnessed extreme harassment of users by the applicants and the erection of gates to discourage use in flagrant violation of the conditions of their planning approval.
“I suggest that the council should take action to correct these breaches.”
Richard Gray, also of Ladyrig, agrees, saying: “I was dismayed that the footpath between the new houses at Ladyrig is threatened with closure.
“I have regularly used the route as part of a circular walk since moving here long before the new house was built.
“I am also concerned that the fencing has made the path narrow and that it is overlooked by cameras attached to the house walls.
“I note that discussions have already taken place with council officers, but it is my hope that local views are sought before making a decision.”
In response to those objections, the Joneses hit back with a statement of their own.
It reads: “The map history around the path is a total mess. It is a path of double standards.
“It cannot cross one garden but crosses another. It is blocked in numerous places, but no one complains. It is unsigned everywhere, yet people want signs only in our garden.
“The 2016 decision notice highlights that this path has no identity or importance in the eyes of officers, yet officer after officer has conditioned it in our garden while allowing every other part of this path to fall by the wayside. “It shows open discrimination against us.
“Scottish Borders Council’s access team have been unable to provide any proof to justify their actions in creating a path section on our plot in 2005.
“They have also failed to prove that this path existed from 1948. We have clearly demonstrated significant evidence against the council’s position.”
The Joneses also state that problems have only started to arise since they lodged their application, explaining: “The access team requested we log usage, which we did for five months in advance of a meeting with the community council.
“This provided clear evidence of usage before this path became emotive. Usage has always been extremely low on the path section through the garden, although this has increased since the application has been submitted.
“The path section is now not being walked responsibly by certain walkers who are using it to harass and intimidate.”
Now, the case will be heard by councillors sitting on the local authority’s planning and building standards committee on Monday, September 2.
Council officers are recommending that councillors approve the application as they say that other legislation dictates that the right of way must remain open so to use a planning condition is unnecessary.
Planning officer Euan Calvert writes in his report to councillors: “In planning terms, the condition has now served its purpose of securing the route of the footpath, and the council accepts that it is unnecessary to bind the applicant to maintain the right of way open and free from obstruction in perpetuity when other legislation exists to uphold access rights to this footpath.”
The Joneses tried to bypass the council’s planning committee and took the case straight to the Scottish Government’s planning and environment appeals department, stating that the local authority had failed to make a decision within the agreed timeframe.
However, a department reporter, acting on behalf of Scottish ministers, threw that appeal out after ruling that the council had not exceeded the relevant time limit.