A Coldstream couple trying to build a soft play centre in the town have accused Scottish Borders Council of not giving them a fair hearing.
Jon and Ann Standing are angry about the way their planning application and subsequent appeal was dealt with, but are now preparing to submit a revised proposal next month.
Should their third attempt fail, the company directors have revealed their intention to take Laughing Ducks Soft Play Ltd out of their home town and set up in Berwick or Kelso instead.
“We feel that they’ve failed to give us a fair hearing,” said Mr Standing following the rejection of their appeal to convert a building at Hillview Industrial Estate into a soft play centre.
“It could make you ask whether it is worth the hassle of trying again in Coldstream. But it’s not about hassle. We want to provide for the town we live in.”
Mr and Mrs Standing say it was clear from the appeal hearing they attended last month that the review body had not given their case due consideration.
He explained: “When the chairman of the review body introduced the case he got the basic details wrong, which sent a shiver down our spine.
“A couple of councillors asked questions among themselves and the answers were right in front of them in the material we had provided. It demonstrated that they didn’t look through the material properly.”
Mrs Standing added: “The chairman seemed to think we were opening a nursery, and one councillor asked if the go-kart track explained in our submission was ‘Scalextric or something’. It was complete ignorance.”
Mr and Mrs Standing established Laughing Ducks Soft Play Ltd six months ago and have already paid for a 12-month lease on the building at Hillview Industrial Estate.
“Essentially it was as an act of good faith because they have been so patient with us,” said Mr Standing.
“They don’t need the physical space and they have business plans of their own. Until they sell the building, they can’t move forward with their plans.”
The building has been unoccupied for three years, and the Standings say their business plan would create five full time and five part-time jobs. But the trading estate is covered by a policy aiming to ensure that it is retained for industrial employment use.
An SBC spokesperson said: “Members of the review body concluded that, whilst the proposed use would bring some employment and wider community benefit, these factors did not outweigh the loss of employment land.
“They considered that the site had a reasonable prospect of marketing for business use in the future and should be retained for that purpose.”
Mr Standing says he intends to buy the building and use it as a personal workshop if he has to move his soft play business elsewhere.
The original planning application, requesting a change of use and a number of interior and exterior alterations, was also refused on the grounds that it is not an “appropriate location” for a children’s soft play facility.
The SBC spokesperson added: “The introduction of children and parents attending the play centre into this predominantly industrial area would not be in the interests of safety and there may also be a consequent impact on the operation of [existing] businesses.
“The review body acknowledged that there was a need and demand for such a facility in the locality and had great sympathy for the aspirations of the applicants to establish their business. However, they concluded that this was not a suitable site.”
The couple plan to resubmit their application, this time with more space reserved for parking.
“It’s a change to the plan that was heard at the appeal,” said Mr Standing, who also hopes SBC’s new planning application procedure which starts in November will work in their favour.
“If it doesn’t work, we will look elsewhere.”