A DECISION on the controversial March Street Mill redevelopment in Peebles has been put on hold until councillors get a better look at the site.

The owner of the disused mill, Moorbrook Textiles, want to demolish most of the industrial buildings in order to build 69 new homes, and planning officers from Scottish Borders Council have recommended that councillors approve the development.

However, the plans have been met with fury by local residents who want to see the site retained as a community and business complex.

The relocation of the March Street Mill allotments is also causing consternation amongst residents, as the current proposal would see the community gardens moved to a smaller site on the east of the property, and onto land which has been contaminated by industrial use over the past century.

Furthermore, objectors have taken umbrage with the fact that Moorbrook Textiles is applying to be exempt from paying developer contributions towards local education and providing affordable housing on the site, which the developers say would make the project economically unviable.

To date, the plans have received 47 objections from Peebles residents, and a petition against the redevelopment has gathered 1,300 signatures.

At a rowdy meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s planning and building standard committee, councillors heard from objectors, concerned councillors and representatives from Moorbrook Textiles.

Speaking to her fellow councillors as an objector, not as a member of the committee, Tweeddale East councillor Heather Anderson said: “Everyone in Peebles is conscious of the significance of this site. March Street is located in the centre of the town conservation area and surrounded on all four sides by residential properties.

“As well as the mills being a site of economic significance, the allotments are at the heart of the site and are designated a key green space by the local development plan.

“Around 17% of the population of Peebles have signed a petition to protect these allotments.

“For over 130 years, from 1884 to 2015, March Street was a working mill. Over such a long period, site contamination is inevitable and the site investigation report revealed contaminants above appropriate thresholds at no less than four locations across the site. More extensive sampling is recommended.”

Councillors who are making an objection to a planning proposal, and who are not members of the building and planning standards committee, are asked to leave the meeting following their statement, and therefore councillor Anderson excused herself from the chamber.

Next to speak objection was Les Turnbull, convener of Peebles Community Council’s planning sub-committee.

He told councillors: “I have to tell you that feelings are running very high in the town about the proposals for this site. Indeed the evidence that feelings are running high, is right behind me.

“There are many, many people here who have taken time and effort to come and support our view.

“This important site has been central to Peebles life for over a century, and we want to see the site and the allotments saved for the benefit of the town.

“The community council opposes this application because we believe that it seeks to contravene the council’s own housing strategies and policies relating to developer contributions, the provision of affordable housing and the development of green space.

“There are alternative plans for the site, which would allow the council to adhere to all of its policies regarding affordable housing.”

Crick Carelton, Peebles Community Trust’s co-ordinator, added: “The proposals before you fall well short of what Peebles needs.

“They fail to address the potential of this site, and stores up future problems for both the town and the council. It doesn’t need to be like this.

“There are much better ways to develop this site and we can deliver these. By contrast, we are working with partners to deliver a development that meets community needs, avoids the problems associated with relocating the allotments, supports and provides homens for those who work in the local economy.

“What Peebles needs is affordable housing, workshops, business premises and business training and start-up facilities.”

Moorbrook Textiles’ ownership of the site began in 2011, but after operating the site at a reported loss of £1m, the Edinburgh-based firm closed the factory gates in 2015 with a loss of 87 jobs.

The company says that the current proposals will only be economically viable providing they secure a discount or exemption from developer and affordable housing costs.

Addressing the committee on behalf of Moorbrook Textiles, Andrew Menzies, the firm’s finance officer, said: “The site faces huge abnormal costs, simply because of the differing levels and the previous industrial usage of the site.

“The cost of fixing those, to deliver a site that can be developed, is in the region of between £1.5m and £2m.

“Whatever development takes place at the site will need to address that. The viability assessment was prepared by a team of professionals and been fully discussed with the district valuer.

“So what has gone before the committee, in terms of the viability assessment, is the product of two teams of professionals. I don’t think anybody else should be questioning that.

“If the application is unsuccessful, then we’ll have a site where we have to think about safety and security.

“There’s a six-figure sum, annually, that we are spending to maintain it as it is, and we’d have to look at potentially securing the site at its perimeter,

“I’m not local, most people probably remember that Tweedside Mill lay derelict for years before it was destroyed by fire, and that’s the last thing we want for March street.”

Following the statements, councillors from the building and standards committee concluded that a site visit was needed in order to grasp the issues fully before making a decision.

Therefore, a decision has been delayed until a site visit can be carried out, which should happen in the next two to three weeks.