AN EARLSTON coach hire company has been granted provisional planning permission to build a house on Mill Road, despite the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) objecting.

Austin Travel, of Station Road, Earlston, has submitted plans to Scottish Borders Council to build a dwelling on the site of Rhymer’s Mill, which used to form part of the J Rutherford’s garage.

The company, run by the Austin family since its inception in 1966, previously submitted similar plans to local planners but these were rejected following objections from neighbours, concerns over flooding from Leader Water, and the close proximity of industrial units.

New plans have since been submitted for a one-and-a-half storey home, with two bedrooms, and with wet dash rendering and a slate roof.

These plans are still not without objection, however, as SEPA has refused to withdraw its initial objection and the property’s close neighbours, the Falkners, have objected due to the impact of the new building on their conservatory.

At a meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s planning and building standards committee, Irene Falkner, of Rhymer’s Avenue, Earlston, told councillors: “I’d just like to say, I’m not really opposed to a house as such, it’s where the house would be.

“It would be opposite our conservatory, where we spend most of our time, and just one-storey might be acceptable but not right in front of our conservatory, as this would block out our winter sun.”

SEPA’s objection stems from the risk of a one-in-200-year flooding event which the environment watchdog says makes the property unsuitable for housing.

Their objection reads: “Given the location of the proposed development within the functional floodplain we do not consider that it meets with the requirements of Scottish planning policy and our position is unlikely to change.

“We have a shared duty with Scottish ministers and other responsible authorities under the flood risk management act to reduce overall flood risk and promote sustainable flood risk management.

“The cornerstone of sustainable flood risk management is the avoidance of flood risk in the first instance. We recommend that alternative locations be considered.

“We have reviewed the information provided in this consultation and it is noted that the application site lies entirely within the medium likelihood (0.5% annual probability or one in 200 year) flood extent of the SEPA flood map, and may therefore be at medium to high risk of flooding.

“We have been involved in extensive consultations for this site over many years; hence we have based our response on our latest advice and all readily available information.”

However, officers from Scottish Borders Council’s planning department have advised councillors to approve the plans, as their own flood impact assessments show that raising the floor level of the property would negate the risk of flooding.

Discussing the plans at a meeting of the planning and building standards committee on Monday 5 November, Jedburgh and District councillor Scott Hamilton said: “I do remember the first application, but disregarding that, looking at what is proposed here is obviously a way forward.

“They’ve listened to our concerns, and taken on the problems which we first raised. I find it quite puzzling that SEPA has not responded to the new information submitted, and so I’ll be taking the advice of our own officers that flooding isn’t really an issue here.”

As SEPA has objected to the application, once approved by councillors the application must go to Scottish Government housing ministers for final approval.

Speaking about this, Kelso and District councillor Simon Mountford said: “Just on this point about the conflict between SEPA and our flood officer, this has actually happened several times in the past.

“I think it’s more down to SEPA’s inherent inflexibility. I’ve always been happy to support our own officer on this, on the grounds that he’s local and knows the territory better.

“We have in the past had to write to ministers and explain what we’re doing and I don’t recall any situation where ministers have been opposed to our decisions.

“I think officers have got it right with the amendments to this plan, which meet all our pre-existing objections, in terms of the design and alignment of the building, so I’m very happy to approve it.”

Councillors sitting on Scottish Borders Council’s planning and building standards committee unanimously voted to agree with the officer’s recommendation and approve the application, subject to the final approval of Scottish Government ministers.