CONTROVERSIAL plans to build hundreds of new homes on a country estate are now set to become a reality after council planners gave the green light to initial earthworks and road building.

Go-ahead for the project at Lowood, near Melrose, has been made under delegated powers – without the need for consideration by councillors.

A decision notice outlining approval was posted on the Scottish Borders Council’s planning portal late last week.

A total of 20 conditions are attached to the notice in a bid to protect the local ecology, bats, badgers and the nearby River Tweed.

The move comes amid concern from opponents that the 110-acre site would prove a “blot on the landscape”.

The estate, purchased by the local authority four years ago for an estimated £9.6m, is earmarked for a mixed development in the council’s Local Development Plan, including housing and industrial use.

It is a long-term development that is expected to take between 20 to 30 years to complete.

Concerns had been expressed over the proposed width of the new road, as it  was thought at six metres the carriageways would be too narrow to accommodate two large vehicles travelling in opposite directions.

But that issue is addressed in the application handling report by the council’s lead planning officer Julie Hayward.

The report states: “There was some concern raised that a 6m width would not be sufficient for two buses, or larger HGVs, to pass. However, ‘Designing Streets’ and the ‘National Roads Development Guide’ confirm a 6m carriageway width as acceptable where the anticipated number of larger vehicles is relatively low. Keeping the carriageway width to a workable minimum will help reduce traffic speeds overall. Marginal widening will be required at the bends in the road to allow extra width for vehicles to pass.

“This will have a minimal visual impact on the development and will ensure that the road infrastructure will be in keeping with the semi-rural nature of the development and with minimal impact, if any, on trees.”

In her report, Ms Hayward adds: “It is expected that the development of the Lowood Estate will happen over time in a number of phases and applications.

“The design statement submitted with this application advises that earthwork slopes will be minimised where possible to ease the road construction into the topography.

“The road alignment has been specifically designed to fit into the landscape, reflect the parkland nature of the site and minimise disruption to trees.

“Due to the level differences between the Innovation Park road (at Tweedbank) and the estate the proposed road would be on an embankment for 130m then lowered.

“The road has been designed to integrate as much as possible with the topography and parkland landscape to reflect the existing estate road character, by avoiding a heavily engineered approach, using a narrow road width, soft verges (no kerbs) and the gradient of banking to either side of the road would be kept as shallow as possible.”

The proposed works include a replacement overflow pipe to take excess water from Lowood pond to the river Tweed.