A quorum of just four councillors this week decided the fate of plans to construct a £6m visitor centre for the Great Tapestry of Scotland.
They were all that remained of Scottish Borders Council’s nine-strong planning committee which met on Monday and unanimously approved their own council’s planning application for the tree-covered site near Tweedbank’s new rail terminal.
Two members were absent from the meeting while another three – Tories Michelle Ballantyne and Jim Fullarton along with Galashiels Independent Bill White – chose to declare an interest and left the Newtown chamber.
Last week, former council leader Drew Tulley claimed it would be inappropriate for the quasi-judicial committee to determine the bid because its members had already publicly adopted positions either for or against the project on council-owned land. But at the outset of the meeting, SBC’s chief legal officer Nuala McKinlay advised the committee had “the legal capacity and the duty” to consider the application. The decision was thus vested in Lib Dem chairman Ron Smith and the committee’s three SNP members Jim Brown, Joan Campbell and Donald Moffat.
The application, which had elicited 74 objections and seven letters of support, was recommended for approval by planning officials, subject to conditions.
These included a requirement that no work should start on the site until SBC had submitted details of its plans to demolish neighbouring Eildon Mill to provide adequate coach and visitor parking for the two-storey tapestry centre.
On the requirement for 123 trees, currently protected by a tree protection order (TPO), to be felled to make way for the building, senior planning officer John Hayward stated: “I would argue the public benefit outweighs the need to protect the trees.”
The lack of parking, particularly for coaches in an area struggling to cope with the parking needs of rail passengers and sports complex users, was cited by Brian McCrow on behalf of objectors.
“With the proposal before you, the visitor experience will potentially be one of an inappropriate setting or of a building site,” he told the committee.
Chartered surveyor John Tait from Hawick, also supporting the objectors, alleged a “conflict” between pedestrians and delivery vehicles and said shortcomings with the roof drainage channels could lead to flooding within the building.
In support of the application, former councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre said the artwork was a “national treasure” which would become a Borders-wide attraction.