Councillor’s ‘development chaos’ warning

Leaderdale and Melrose councillor Tom Miers.
Leaderdale and Melrose councillor Tom Miers.

Local Democracy Reporting Service

Councillor Tom Miers, who represents Melrose and Leaderdale, has written to Scottish housing minister, MSP Kevin Stewart, saying that his refusal to back regional development plans means local authorities could have little legal basis for refusing planning applications.

Mr Stewart rejected the latest South East Scotland development plan (SESplan2), the regional plan for transport and housing which has taken Edinburgh, the Lothians, the Scottish Borders and Fife councils four years to draw up.

It forms the legal basis for ‘local development plans’ that set out in detail where housing and other development can be built locally and the rules around their design, layout, and impact on the environment.

However, Scottish ministers are not satisfied with the transport plan filed as part of the far-reaching proposals, suggesting that insufficient account had been taken of the links between land and transport.

At a private meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s planning and building standards committee, councillors were briefed by the authority’s chief planning officer Ian Aikman, who advised councillors that by rejecting SESplan2, the Scottish Government could undermine the legal basis of local plans.

This could allow builders to gain planning approval by default, wherever they want to build, and would mean the council would lose the ability to decide on controversial planning applications.

Now, Mr Miers, Scottish Borders Council’s member for planning and environment, has written to Mr Stewart warning of “the unwelcome possibility of uncontrolled development” in the Borders.

He writes: “Your decision to reject SESplan2 has caused considerable uncertainty in the Borders.

“Whatever the merits of the transport element of the plan, rejecting it in its entirety calls into question not just the future of transport links in the region but the legal status of our current and emerging local development plan and the guidelines it offers on housing allocations, locations and so on.

“There is now the unwelcome possibility of uncontrolled and unplanned development by the rejection of SESplan2.

“It may be that you have good reasons for rejecting SESplan2 and rejecting your reporter’s advice that we deal with any outstanding transport issues through a supplementary guidance.

“But can I urge you urgently to clarify the Scottish Government’s intentions with regard to underpinning the legal status of local development plans and the processes that go into preparing them so we in the Borders can be confident that our existing arrangements are valid and the work we are doing to develop the next local development plan is also valid and can go ahead without being undermined in the future.”