DESPITE concerns from heritage experts, a bid to convert the former Courthouse in Peebles into a residential property is being supported by planning officials.

Marc Haslam, husband of council leader Shona, wants to convert part of the four-storey 19th century building into an apartment.

The full planning application, which would see the main staircase closed off at upper ground level, suspended ceilings introduced and the removal of a partition wall, has mainly won support.

But the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland (AHSS) has raised an objection.

A spokesman said: "The primary concern is that the blocking off of the central staircase at entrance level.

"The removal of the staircase destroys the building's entrance sequence and relegates the first floor entrance to a fire-escape style staircase at the rear.

"This alteration is unsympathetic to the special character of the building.

"Secondly, the installation of lowered ceilings will hide historic features such as cornicing."

Peebles Courthouse was designed by Thomas Brown and built between 1844 and 1848 in a Jacobean style.

Its initial use was to serve as the County Hall with prison cells beneath.

Alterations were carried out in 1892 when the building became the area's sheriff court.

For more than a century justice was dispensed from the bench of the High Street building until extensive dry rot forced its closure in 2001.

Attempts were made by local campaigners to convert the former courthouse into a community and learning hub.

But a failure to attract sufficient funding led to it being sold and private developers creating a bar and restaurant as well as smaller offices and studios.

The closure of the Courthouse Bar and Restaurant more than two years ago led to the Category B listed building's long-term future once again being thrown into doubt.

Although Mr Haslam's plans have met with a degree of opposition, they have generally been welcomed.

And planning officer Scott Shearer is recommending Monday's meeting of the Planning and Building Standards Committee approves the application.

He stated: "Historic buildings are most vulnerable when they are unoccupied.

"This proposal seeks to re-use part of this building, much of which has lain vacant for some time.

"The principle of this is welcomed because the new use will help to secure the building's future and despite the AHSS lodging an objection to the internal proposals they do acknowledge that the principle of the change of use is supported.

"A careful balance needs to be achieved which allows a positive new use to be introduced without adversely affecting the historic and architectural interest of the listed building or the character and appearance of the conservation area."

Mr Haslam's proposals are to retain the self-contained flat within the lower ground floor as well as the commercial units in the upper ground floor.

The upper floors of the buildings are to be converted to provide a single residential unit.

The planning committee will consider the application on Monday morning.