CAMPAIGNERS believe newts and otters could prevent a planned £6 million housing development going ahead on the lower slopes of the Eildons.

An opposition group against the 26-house proposals on the edge of Melrose was formed last year.

And their public campaign has led to a total of 118 objections being tabled against the plans by Rural Renaissance.

Many from the group, Don't Build on the Eildons, believe new evidence that otters are active in a burn which runs along the entrance to the site could prevent a new access bridge being built.

And evidence that highly-protected Great Crested Newts use the 2.5 hectare site for foraging could lead to further problems for the developer.

Greg Simpson from Don't Build on the Eildons told us: "Great Crested Newts are in a nearby water course and the ecology officer has said they will travel up to 500 metres to forage for food, which is onto the site.

"No proper survey has been carried out and Scottish Borders Council's ecology section are looking for more information from the developers.

“Video footage has also been submitted of otters on the Malthouse Burn, upstream from the current bridged entrance to The Croft and near to where they propose to build a new bridge.

“There is a legal requirement to carry out a proper survey to make sure protected species such as Great Crested Newts and otters as well as their habitats won’t be harmed.”

The full planning application was scheduled to go in front of Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee this spring, with March being pencilled in as the earliest date.

But a list of issues, including the ecology concerns, have still to be resolved before planning officers can offer their support.

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has objected due to flood concerns, the local authority’s roads department wants more information regarding engineering specifications of a new access bridge as well as pedestrian access to Dingleton Road, and the council’s landscape architect is unhappy with part of the proposed lay-out of the development.

The local authority’s planning department has also requested changes to the designs of some of the houses.

Mr Simpson added: “Scottish Borders Council’s planning officers are doing a fantastic job in scrutinising this application.

“The amount of local opposition has made everyone sit up and take notice.

“The developer is having a much more difficult job balancing the required investment with potential return for this development to be worthwhile.”

The land off Dingleton Road is included in the region’s Local Plan for housing.

Melrose-based Rural Renaissance’s application is for 26 detached houses on the site surrounding Cherrytrees Children’s Nursery.

Michael Crawford from Rural Renaissance told us: “Rural Renaissance Limited is currently responding to the council and other agencies with the requisite reports and studies.

"These studies have been developed over a number of months and will be submitted in sufficient time to allow their full consideration before the Planning Committee meets in March.

"Rural Renaissance Limited is confident that this site will be popular – as they have received a significant number of enquires, resulting through unintended consequence of the publicity and leafletting activities of the objectors to the development.

"After a positive meeting with over 80 members of the Melrose community at the Rugby Club in January 2018, Rural Renaissance Ltd have been refining the plans for their development site at the Croft, Melrose.

"Rural Renaissance Limited's proposals comply with Scottish Borders Council’s brief prepared in 2006, which was the subject of a Public Inquiry held in the Autumn 2006 at the Corn Exchange Melrose in front of two Scottish Government Reporters.

"The reporters heard evidence on all aspects of the site including ecology, traffic, education and visual impact, and concluded that the site was suitable for development.

"The current proposals are for only 21 open market houses and seven one-bedroom affordable bungalows.

"Rural Renaissance Limited's research, based on economic benefit studies, indicates that the successful development will contribute £900,000 annually to the local economy, £178,000 in developer contributions and sustain 60 local jobs during construction."