A CONTROVERSIAL Peebles housing development has been given the go-ahead, despite strong local opposition.

York-based Persimmon Homes is set to build a 71-home housing estate beside South Parks industrial estate, Peebles, after finding favour with Scottish Borders Council’s planning and building standards committee on Monday 4 March.

The estate will comprise a mixture of two-five bedroom, detached, semi-detached and terraced houses, including 18 affordable housing units.

However, the plans have been met with harsh criticism from local residents, with objections received from 112 different households and the local community council.

In particular, Peebles residents have raised concerns regarding the capacity of the site, pressure on local amenities, and road safety on the nearby Caledonian Road, which is the main access route.

Appearing before the committee on behalf of local objectors and fellow Tweeddale East councillors Shona Haslam and Stuart Bell, councillor Robin Tatler said: “While the local development plan sets out that the site’s indicative capacity should be for 50 houses, this application drives a coach and horses through that by proposing 71 houses.

“The town and country planning act requires an applicant to justify why they wish to exceed the indicative capacity. This application has not done so and to grant such an application would create a precedent that would be difficult to challenge in the future.

“At best, the design and layout of the development could be said to be compact, at worst, it is crowded and soulless, and certainly not matching the scenic nature of the site.

“Then there is the objection on the grounds of the effect that these 71 houses will have on the single vehicular access route, Caledonian Road.

“This road has a number of features which could cause any increase in traffic on it to potentially increase the danger of accidents for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists.

“In conclusion I would ask that the development be rejected. I would also suggest that before considering any future development that uses Caledonian Road as the main access that planning officers and developers carry out much more detailed research on the traffic impact and improvement options on the road.”

Persimmon Homes’ head of land, Gordon Johnson, spoke in support of the application. He told councillors: “It is of course an argument that if we have submitted an application for a development of 50 houses, then we could have avoided many of the objections.

“However, for commercial reasons this would have meant the development would be based solely on larger, four to bed homes, which would be more expensive and thus more exclusive.

“Eighteen of the houses will be built in partnership with Eildon Housing Association, and will be social rent. By approving 71 units, an extra five affordable homes will be secured than if it was restricted to the initial capacity of 50.

“Affordable housing is a priority for Scottish Borders Council, with over 1,000 affordable houses required over the next five years in the region.

“There is capacity for the local road network to safely accommodate traffic associated with this development.

“Furthermore, there is also the fact that the difference in traffic variation between 71 houses and 50 houses would be negligible.”

Council planners recommended that councillors approve the application, and Derek Inglis, Scottish Borders Council’s roads planning officer, accepted that most of the objections stem from concerns over Caledonian Road, but said that by imposing conditions on the developer much of those concerns can be mitigated.

This includes increasing the existing pavement width by 20cm in certain places; creating two pedestrian crossings, one on Caledonian Road and one on South Parks; providing extra parking spaces on a current bit of green land that runs along the road; and re-introducing vehicular access for one of the properties along Caledonian Road where the drive is blocked by a lamppost, therefore reducing the pressure on on-street parking.

Galashiels and District councillor Sandy Aitchison said he was sympathetic with the objectors: “I just wonder, when the developers sat down and looked at this, how often they said the word ‘squeezed’, as in, ‘how much more can we squeeze into there’.

“How can you push up 50 by 40% and still be in the spirit of the local development plan? Why do we say it if it means nothing but a number, when we can just ignore it?”

Councillor Jim Fullarton, who represents East Berwickshire, said he is familiar with the road from when he would travel to the Peebles market: “As a farmer who has used that road, it is a wide road and I think officers have done a great job of mitigating some of the concerns. For example, I think widening the pavement is great idea.

“I think Caledonian Road can handle it. It’s a wide road and virtually straight.

“I think it’s a bit harsh to say that the affordable housing is crammed in at one end, when you look at affordable housing you have to look at terraced housing.

“We all want affordable housing and the developers have worked hard to make sure this is attractive. The development itself is going to have a bit of feature, it will be somewhere people want to live.

“I support the development and commend the officers for the work they have done to fit this into Peebles because Peebles needs more housing and to not just be against everything.”

Councillors voted to accept the recommendations of the council’s planning officers and gave the development the go-ahead.