COUNCIL planning officers have given the go ahead for 64 affordable homes in Newtown St Boswells, despite concerns over school capacity and the possible closure of the local GP surgery.

Edinburgh-based Hart Builders is planning on building an estate to the north of Sergeants Park, and to the west of Newtown Primary School, on behalf of Eildon Housing Association.

As part of Scottish Borders Council’s local development plan, Newtown St Boswells has been identified as a potential site for 900 new homes, and the new estate is the first stage in a much wider transformation of the village.

However, the plans have met with objections from local residents and representatives from Newtown and Eildon Community Council, who have raised concerns over exerting additional pressure on Newtown’s GP surgery, primary school, and sewerage system.

Because the estate will be 100 per cent affordable housing, the developers will be exempt from paying developers contributions to improve the village’s primary school and GP surgery, something which has raised concerns at Newtown and Eildon Community Council.

In a written objection, community councillor Roger French said: “For over 10 years, the community council and the village have been led to believe that the new housing developments in Scottish Borders Council’s local plan would be beneficial to Newtown St Boswells as a result of developer contributions.

“This would not only fund the expansion of the existing community services to accommodate the growth, for example school, health facilities sewage plant, road infrastructure, and play facilities, but also to help fund addition benefits like an improved or new village centre.

“The first objection is that this proposed development will provide no developer contribution apart from providing token funds to cover additional playground equipment.

“The 64 dwellings potentially represents some 147 additional residents who will be using the existing community services which are under strain already and this is unacceptable.

“The second objection is that this planning application does not comply with Scottish Borders Council’s development framework for the village which has a core objective to co-ordinate developments in the village to prevent piecemeal development.

“All the developments in the framework are mixed house developments comprising of 75 per cent private housing and 25 per cent affordable/social housing.

“Maintaining this ratio is important since without the private housing no developer contribution is available to fund the enlarged community.”

Despite objections, council planning officers recommended that the development be approved, saying that the proposals are “consistent with local development plan policies and supporting planning guidance covering, but not limited to: placemaking and design; accessibility; the protection of residential amenity; and affordable housing.”

At a meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s planning and building standards committee on Monday, councillors broadly agreed with the recommendation of their planning officers.

Kelso and District councillor Simon Mountford (Cons) said: “It’s been very helpful to see this proposals in the context of the masterplan.

“In terms of the development I’m happy to approve it. It’s important we do approve it because affordable housing is important and it’s something we should support.

“I would make one comment, however. It’s incredibly important that affordable housing is is not distinguishable from mainstream forms of housing, I think it’s incredibly important we do that.

“I’m not concerned about this particular application, but the general principle is something we do need to ensure. The design must be indistinguishable.”

Galashiels councillor Andy Anderson (SNP) shared the concerns of the community council, but ultimately came down in favour of the development, saying: “The issue we had before was about about school capacity, and with it being affordable housing, we know there’s no prospect of contributions from the developer towards the school.

“However, the report from officers says that although the development will bring the school to near capacity, it can be absorbed.

“My other concern was about the GP surgery, but unfortunately the decision of the owners is not material to this discussion. I wonder if more housing might actually help the possibility of keeping it open.

“I’m happy to go with the officer’s recommendation on this.”

The rest of the committee was unanimous in voting to go with recommendation of the council’s planning department and approved the development.