RESTORATION work on an iconic Peebles civic building has been labelled ‘premature’ by two town groups.

An application made by Scottish Borders Council for the removal of the mid-20th century suspended ceiling from the category A listed Chambers Institute and Burgh Hall in Peebles has been approved.

The bid to carry out the work was opposed by Peebles Community Council and Peebles Civic Society, who called instead for an overall ‘masterplan’ for the hall to be drawn up.

Criticism was also made over the ‘lack of consultation’ by Scottish Borders Council in relation to the proposed works.

Peter Maudsley, planning convenor with the community council, said: “The Chambers Institution is sorely in need of comprehensive modernisation to render it fit for the future.

“Scottish Borders Council as the inherited Trustee of that public trust has a duty to manage Chambers Institution in the best interests of the local community as beneficiaries, yet there has been no consultation with the beneficiaries on the proposals that are now being put forward in this application.

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“While we have no objection in principle to the removal of the existing suspended ceiling and the restoration of the original roof and upper windows as part of a coordinated plan, we are concerned that the submitted proposals have not been thought through.”

The Chambers Institution was gifted by William Chambers in 1859 in trust for the benefit of Peebles and Peebleshire but is now generally agreed to be in need of comprehensive modernisation.

In his response, Anthony Newton, secretary of Peebles Civic Society, said: “In our view the optimum solution to updating and improving the Chambers Institution and Burgh Hall, to improving access and circulation between the various parts, and to restoring its presently tired character, will be found in a comprehensive remodelling of the whole complex, for which proper planned funding needs to be sought and put in place.”

In his report supporting the application, council planning officer Ranald Dods said: “The removal of the suspended ceiling would return the hall to more or less its original proportions and would create a far more pleasing space than is currently the case.

“New lighting and circulation fans would be installed and repairs and repainting carried out to the original roof structure.”