CONTROVERSIAL plans to build two three-and-a-half storey tower blocks on the banks of the River Tweed have been rejected by councillors.

Selkirk-based Eildon Housing Association originally unveiled plans for Tweedbridge Court, Peebles, in August 2018, but these were met with a wave of rejections from local residents who voiced concerns over the size of the development, which stood a full four storeys above the banks of the river.

Following a public outcry, the housing association’s agent, Edinburgh-based Camerons Architects, was forced to submit new plans that reduced the building to three-and-a-half storeys and took 70cm off the overall height of the two proposed buildings.

However, residents remained opposed to the plans, with Scottish Borders Council receiving 186 objections to the development.

At a packed meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s planning and building standards committee on Monday, February 4, residents heard from two political opponents who had come together to represent their ward.

Council leader Shona Haslam, and leader of the opposition Stuart Bell, who both represent Tweeddale East, shared a platform as they voiced their concerns to their fellow elected members on the planning committee.

Councillor Haslam told the meeting: “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, the design of the building and the height of the development would impact too severely in its current form on the views, visual impact of the town and is not in keeping architecturally with the wider context of the town, points that my colleagues will now go on to address.”

Councillor Bell explained: “Personally 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 floodplain.

“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 formerly owned and operated by Edinburgh-based social landlord Margaret Blackwood Housing Association, but after falling into disrepair the site was acquired by Eildon Housing Association who demolished the old building.

Speaking in support of its development, Eildon Housing Association was represented by both its agent and chief executive, Nile Istephan.

Mr 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, they ended up running the property down and closing it.

“It was a derelict building for over two years until we demolished. 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 and indication as to the challenges and issues related to this particular site which this proposal seeks to overcome.”

Gavin Yule, on behalf of Camerons Architects, told the meeting: “An extensive design process was carried out, taking on board both planning officer and public comments which have been received.

“This development clearly shows the 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.

“In terms of context, the proposals is lower than the neighbouring fire tower, and the tops of the surrounding trees.”

Despite the concerns of local residents, officers recommended that councillors approve the development.

Scottish Borders Council’s 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 which has developed a more traditional form of development 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 Local Development Plan 2016 and supplementary planning guidance having accounted for other material considerations.”

At first, members of the planning and building standards committee decided they could not make a decision without a site visit, and so moved the postpone the decision until that could be arranged.

However, council officers informed the committee that councillors were now on statutory deadline for deciding the application, and that a decision must be reached that day.

Therefore, the meeting was adjourned for a couple of hours while councillors travelled to Peebles for an impromptu site visit.

Upon returning, it was clear that a majority of councillors felt the development proposal was too high.

Galashiels and District councillor Sandy Aitchison said: “In terms of the layout the density is too much. I think it’s still too high, and in my opinion the planning application is not something I can support.

Jedburgh and District 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 application.