↑ Return to Key Issues

Print this Page

Housing & Development

It is a disgrace that while waiting lists for accommodation grow in the Borders, the Council is focussing on providing executive housing for commuters. The Borders Party believes that housing must be related to local needs and local employment.

The Borders Party stands for high quality development that provides opportunities for new, affordable housing and economic growth while maintaining the unique character and beauty of our surroundings.

We are determined to make the clear distinction between development which brings benefits and development which is damaging.

Our area suffers from a twin problem:

  • there is insufficient development overall, and
  • too much development is ugly and in the wrong place.

The two feed off each other – bad development leads to public hostility and resistance to new building. There is consequently a lack of new houses and commercial development, leading to high land and house prices. We have the worst of both worlds.

The Borders Party’s objective is to encourage development which is more attractive and better related to local employment and local needs. By promoting planning policy which demands high standards, we can protect our natural and built heritage from damage and speed up the planning process. As confidence in good development rises, building land will become more readily available.

The result we aim for is higher standards of building with lower overall development costs, leading to more affordable housing and a boost to business and the economy.

At the moment, we are getting the opposite: high cost, low standard suburban development which is threatening to ruin our environment while failing to address the economic needs of Borders people.

The Borders Party believes that new housing must be related to local needs and local employment.

Planning for people to live 40-odd miles from their place of work is unsustainable; it is bad for the environment and bad for communities. The Council wants to put well over 50% of all new housing for the Borders between Galashiels, Melrose and St. Boswells, largely to “justify” the return of the Waverley Line. Wouldn’t it have been more sensible to build a railway where the housing and population already exists – in the Tweed Valley running through Penicuik, Leadburn, Peebles, Innerleithen, Walkerburn and Clovenfords to Galashiels and through to Carlisle or Berwick-upon-Tweed?

Balance in the Borders

Not only will the central Tweed valley and existing villages be irreparably damaged, but also the balance of development which is vital to our largely rural region will be distorted. Already we see Hawick and Jedburgh getting less investment and their residents having to travel to Galashiels to work and to shop.

The Borders Party Alternative

People rightly ask what The Borders Party would do if we don’t like large blocks of executive housing tacked onto existing towns and villages. The response of too many Councillors and planners is, “You can’t stop growth and we’ve got to put the houses somewhere.” That is no excuse for insensitive development: there are real, positive alternatives for our region, but The Borders Party is the only party articulating them. Here is some of our thinking.

Consultation

Critics of the Council’s development policies have been rejected as backwards-looking and obstacles to “progress”. The Borders Party does not pay lip service to consultation; we are serious about these things. If the Council had sought Borderers’ advice in good time, and paid attention to it, considerable damage could have been avoided and much better use made of our resources. This applies to many proposals right across the Borders.

House Size

Affordable housing is a pressing need and we are repeatedly told that the average household size is falling. We would demand more affordable homes, partly by requiring a far higher proportion of smaller new houses.

Density

Many people believe that keeping down the number of houses per site makes a development less offensive. But some of the best recent developments are high density, often made up of small house units. High density housing can often be fitted more sensitively into existing settlements as traditional town buildings are of “high density”; it requires less land, and can allow more people to live close to shops and services.

Suburban Sprawl

Large blocks of low-density, executive housing, on the outskirts of towns, typical of so much which the Council has promoted, represent the very worst in sustainable planning. Such developments rarely have any local amenities, require high levels of car use, integrate poorly with existing communities and often ruin the setting and amenity of the host town. So often, these large additions put intolerable pressures on local infrastructure and services.

New Villages

We are interested in new villages, far enough away from existing villages to be able to grow with their own identity and facilities. Slow-growing, multi-use new villages offer more employment opportunities and great potential for the best in sustainable design.

Many towns and villages have only a limited capacity for new housing, and sensitive “patching” is appropriate, not large, suburban additions on important green spaces, too far from the town centres for residents to form part of the community.

The present Council’s interest in the big, national house-builders can only result in less work for local firms and the least appropriate development for the Borders.

The Borders Party proposes a UK-wide competition to find the best design for a new Borders village. The competition would be judged by the people of the Borders.

Brown Field Sites

When available, brown field sites are the obvious choice for new development. Sometimes such sites are ‘expensive’ to build on – Too bad. The unseen costs, especially to the environment, are greatly reduced.

The Unseen Costs of Development

Developers are often asked for ‘contributions’ towards schools or other infrastructure. This just adds to the cost of development without alleviating the local impact of it. Too often the ‘host’ community ends up facing the brunt of the cost, not just when new roads, sewerage etc. have to be paid for, but also in terms of the environment, loss of amenity and congestion. The Borders Party is determined that these costs, both direct and indirect, should be properly considered before developments are brought forward, resulting in lower ‘developer contributions’ that would be diverted to helping local communities.

Disused Industrial Buildings

Borders’ mills can make very stylish flats and offices. Sometimes there is a presumption against this if the buildings are in areas zoned for industrial use, in which case they often end up being demolished because they are unsuitable for modern industry. The Council has recently been more favourable towards conversion to residential use, there are some examples in Hawick, and we would encourage this. Making modern flats inside these fine old buildings is a tribute to the Borders’ industrial past and a far better use of resources than flattening them to make way for supermarkets.

Local Needs and Local Employment

The relationship of new development to local needs and local employment is essential. We welcome people who want to come to live in the Borders, but actually planning for a great influx of people who will work 40-odd miles away is sustainable planning turned on its head – 80 miles, five times a week, is more than a journey to London.

Borders Vernacular

Just insisting on a slate roof is not good enough. When putting new houses alongside old houses far more attention should be paid to roof pitch, window shape, wall material and colour etc. The Borders has many fine old buildings for reference.

Case Study: The Ruination of Galashiels

The Borders Party would have called for the basic principles of sustainable development to be applied to Galashiels. Instead of retail giants dominating the town centre there could have been several hundred new homes. The former Textiles College, and the fine mill buildings now swept away, would have maintained a sense of place and heritage and provided stylish office and residential accommodation. This new housing would have been close to the shops, public transport and other facilities, and the riverside setting, now utterly wasted, used to best advantage. Car use would have been greatly reduced.

In fact all the good practice boxes set out in the Structure Plan could have been ticked, and the town’s unique valley setting and amenity maintained by abandoning proposed developments at Netherbarns, Easter Langlee and Crotchetknowe.

But no, the Council approved the senseless demolition of the Former Textiles College and historic mill buildings to make way for Tesco and others. These retail giants are already damaging not only local traders, but shops throughout the Borders. People from Hawick, Jedburgh and even Berwick are already regular shoppers in Gala.

The new Galashiels ring road is supposed to make circulation easier but local traders fear increased parking difficulties and more, not less congestion, as traffic is generated by the megastores, the railway and extensive new housing on the town’s outskirts.

The explosion of development around Galashiels, largely generated by the railway, will ruin the rural, valley setting of the town, greatly increase car use and integrates very poorly with the existing community. Many Borders towns are similarly threatened by unsustainable, edge-of-town blocks of executive housing.

Almost all of these damaging changes have been promoted by the Council. What a tragedy, commercially, socially, and for our natural and built heritage; all because of a lack of foresight and meaningful consultation.

Tell us what you think

The Borders Party is fully committed to taking the views of Borderers into account, so please contact us and let us have your thoughts on how we can best serve the Borders.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.bordersparty.org.uk/key-issues/housing-development/