SCOTTISH Borders Council officers are ignoring the views of the Peebles community, sparking serious concerns of a democratic deficit.

This is the claim made by one of the town’s community leaders who claims residents in Peebles are furious after being “badly let down” by councillors on the planning committee.

The controversial decision to approve an application for 71 houses at South Parks despite overwhelming opposition, has led to faltering faith in local democracy.

And with the wheels in motion to bring the next Local Development Plan to fruition, Community Councillor Les Turnbull said: “All councillors should be prepared to explain to the disillusioned public why Peebles is earmarked to take the lion’s share of new housing in the Borders."

Housing developments have fast become a burning topic of conversation in the town.

Mr Turnbull told us that residents in Peebles have described the discussion amongst planning committee members deciding the fate of the Persimmon Homes application as a “debacle”.

He continued: “Residents of the town are asking themselves why they should bother to comment upon planning applications when SBC officials ignore mountains of well researched evidence that has been presented to them.

“Objectors, including the three ward Councillors for the area, provided the committee with very detailed objections which included detailed analysis of the traffic situation on the Caledonian Road. The objectors also presented evidence to the committee showing how their own planning policies were being ignored by their officials.”

Peebles Community Council and many residents objected to the land at South Parks site being earmarked for development in the Local Development Plan back in 2010.

Mr Turnbull said: “What makes objectors particularly annoyed is the notion that once building sites have been included in Local Development Plans, their inclusion cannot be questioned.

"Their views then were ignored just as their views have been totally ignored now. One of the questions that needs to be asked is, why?”

Mr Turnbull said the conduct of the planning committee with the housing application was “appalling” and added that the system is loaded in favour of developers.

He added: “Well over 100 different objectors submitted some very detailed evidence to planners who ignored it.

"This has brought many objectors to question the validity of the planning process. It would appear that this process is designed to allow developers to build as and when they want and they can appeal if their application is refused.

“Objectors on the other hand have no right of appeal; given that they have no right of appeal it is surely essential that they are given a fair hearing where evidence is properly considered.

“In the South Parks case, Councillor Fullarton made comments regarding the Caledonian Road being wide and safe, based on his knowledge of over 30 years ago - no one challenged him.

“What has caused so much anger was that not a single councillor on the committee knew enough about Peebles to question Councillor Fullarton’s assertion. It may be that the planning committee has insufficient time to deal properly with these more complicated and contentious applications; if that is the case then something has to change.

“They simply failed to understand the issues before them nor the tremendous amount of anger within our community."

The Scottish Government has launched an initiative called Democracy Matters, which aims to improve the level of involvement of local communities.

Mr Turnbull continued: “What is the point if planning officers can write what they want, ignore government guidance and legislation, which is then allowed to stand by councillors who either do not have the knowledge to challenge them or the will to do so. For democracy to matter the peoples’ voice needs to be heard.”

The community leader says the democratic deficit will be brought into sharp focus with the next Local Development plan, and heeded a warning to elected councillors to be prepared to answer why Peebles is mooted for major development when Scottish Borders Council is not prepared to develop infrastructure first.

Scottish Borders Council strongly refutes the claims that councillors and officials ignored the views of the community.

A spokesperson said: “All planning decisions require the delicate balancing of a range of policy objectives and other material factors, including the views expressed by the Community Council.

"The two recent planning applications in Peebles highlighted how difficult that can be and the complexity of the decision making process. Both proposals were subject to detailed analysis, which was reflected in the presentation of the cases by officers and the lengthy debate members had on these applications.

“It is clear that a considerable amount of time was spent considering the points and issues made both for and against the proposed developments. Indeed, both applications were revised to take into consideration the views expressed by local residents and the Community Council.

“Ultimately, and after considering all of the evidence before them, the Committee came to the view that it could support one of the applications, which was the development at South Parks. The application at Tweedbridge Court was refused.”