SCOTTISH Borders Council has once again rejected plans to open a children’s soft-play area and Crossfit gym in Tweedbank.

The owners of the former Barbour factory at Tweedside Park, Melrose-based JSC Properties, had appealed to the council’s local review body after planning officials rejected their plans back in August.

The proposals would have created eight jobs at the site, which has remained vacant since 2014, and would have seen an adjoining cafe built for the soft play area and gym.   

In a written statement pleading their case to the councillors, a spokesperson for Galashiels-based Ferguson Planning, which is representing JSC Properties, said: “There are a number of material considerations which indicate that the application can be supported despite the proposal being contrary to the normally permitted uses in Tweedside Park.

“These include: the proposals will lead to job creation; the vacant space has been actively and continually marketed since 2014 with no success for uses which comply with the employment land allocation; existing unit occupiers would be unaffected; and there is significant demand for the proposals.

As evidence of the demand for a CrossFit gym and children’s soft-play area at the site, the developers have submitted a survey which sought views on the proposals from 330 Borders residents.

When asked ‘do you feel that a soft play area with cafe and crossfit training facility would be a worthwhile addition to the Tweedbank industrial estate?’, 95% of respondents answered affirmatively.

The survey also shows that 90% of respondent said they would visit the soft play area, and 71% said they would visit the Crossfit gym.

The spokesperson further commented: “Also, the proposals would be allocated in vacant or sterilised space which does not contribute to the employment land allocation; there is a significant over-supply of business and industrial space in the central Borders and vacancy rate of units within Tweedbank is considerable; and there are no alternative sites locally to site the proposed soft-play facility and no land, at all, is allocated for such facilities in the Borders.”

However, at the local review body meeting on Monday, November 19, Scottish Borders councillors voted to reject the appeal, as they felt the site should be set aside for industrial use in light of the economic benefits the Borders railway is expected to bring.

Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison said of the proposals: “I think it’s a little early to start giving away our industrial land in the railway corridor.

“I’m also not minded to give away industrial land until this country has something resembling stability.

“I think the balance we have to strike is do we agree with the officer’s judgement? I do.

“I can see why people want this and why people want to do it but I think it’s a bit early to start giving away industrial land this early in the development plan.”

Kelso councillor Simon Mountford also spoke in favour of rejecting the application saying: “It’s a difficult one. You’ve got a situation with an empty site which is not doing anyone any favours, and what we have here is an application that is going to create jobs.

“Officers have accepted there is a need for a soft-play centre, just not here. They say this is a positive thing but the applicants should look at alternative sites.

“However, soft-play sites require these types of building. It’s a catch-22 for these kinds of applications.

“That said, I do come down on the side of officers because it’s too early in in the day to just give up on this kind of development.”

Two councillors, Helen Laing and Andy Anderson, who represent the wards of East Berwickshire and Galashiels, respectively, voted to overturn the proposals as they felt the site had been vacant for two long.

Councillor Laing said: “There is a demand for this type of business, and the site has been empty since 2014. It’s not contributing much if it’s sat empty.

“The site sitting empty does nothing for the economy. A demand has been demonstrated and the gym already has people coming in.”

Councillor Anderson added: “I do feel that being empty for four years means other businesses may not want to move in.”

Councillors sitting on the local review body voted four to two to reject the application.