A decision on whether Galashiels JobCentre Plus should be allowed to move to Douglas Bridge in the town centre will be made by a Scottish Government reporter in November.
The Department for Work and Pensions has appealed against this month’s rejection by Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee of that proposed move.
The committee overruled a recommendation by planning team leader Carlos Clarke that the plans should be approved and instead unanimously agreed that for the former Internacionale fashion store at 6-8 Douglas Bridge should be retained for retail use despite having been unoccupied for the past three years.
The department, currently streamlining its built estate throughout the UK, had sought consent for change of use – from retail to office – to facilitate a move from its home of the past 11 years at New Reiver House behind High Street.
The committee ruled that such a bid, opposed by Galashiels Chamber of Trade, was contrary to two policies in the council’s local development plan and would “result in the loss of prime retail floorspace in a prominent location within the core activity area which forms part of a principal shopping street and a key approach to the town centre”.
Immediately after the planning committee meeting, the department said it was considering its options, and last week, the department lodged an appeal with the Scottish Government’s planning and environmental appeals division.
In their submission, agents for the department claim the policies cited by the committee do not directly relate to the loss of prime retail floorspace and are, rather, intended to “deal with maintaining and enhancing flexibility, vitality and viability” in town centres.
“It is the applicant’s position that bringing a vacant retail unit back into active use, with an estimated footfall in excess of 150 persons per day, would achieve this policy objective,” state the agents. “Loss of prime retail floorspace is not an appropriate reason to refuse planning permission with regard to either policy.
“The applicant finds that material considerations, such as bringing a vacant unit back into active use, are supportive of planning permission being granted.
“The applicant finds that there are no material planning considerations that would support planning permission being refused.
“In this regard, the applicant notes that some matters set out in public representations, making assertions regarding the operational nature of the jobcentre and how this may detract from the area’s vitality, are without foundation and not material in planning terms.”
A decision on the department’s planning appeal is expected by Wednesday, November 15.