AROUND 45 new homes look set to be built near Abbotsford House, despite criticism of the proposals.

Kelso builders M&J Ballantyne want to build a housing development at Netherbarns, a hillside on the outskirts of Galashiels. The site is across the Tweed from the former home of author Sir Walter Scott.

Despite a raft of objections, a majority of councillors have now given their backing to the Netherbarns project being included in Scottish Borders Council’s Local Development Plan (LDP).

The decision was made at the full council meeting on Friday (September 25).

During the meeting, Galashiels councillor and deputy leader Sandy Aitchison introduced an amendment to the LDP, which sought to remove Netherbarns from the document.

He said: “There is a statement in the LDP that this is a new housing site, but it is hardly new.

“Developers have attempted to build here many times since 2006, and with the agreement of four Scottish Government reporters, have been rejected.

“The lower levels of the site, which are more sensitive to the views of the house, will be free of housing, according to the developer, but for how long?

“Once a developer is in the field in question I consider it would be very difficult for any future planning committee to refuse further housing, and it’s worth stating that the indicative number of houses are indicative – anyone who has served on the planning committee knows these numbers are frequently exceeded.

“Successive reporters have agreed that this is not a site which should be developed because of its potential impact on Abbotsford House, its grounds and the concept that Sir Walter Scott developed for the house itself and the outlook of the house, as well as the area beyond.

“It was part of a masterplan and is something which deserves to be protected.”

But Kelso councillor Tom Weatherston disagreed, saying: “I respect the opinions of my fellow councillor and the members of the public who wish to remove Netherbarns from the LDP, but on this occasion I’ll have to respectfully disagree.

“I think our officers have worked very hard on this, and they’ve come up with a proposal that can be supported by members, protect the landscape and provide housing where there is a clear housing need.

“At the site visit earlier this year, I was standing in front of the house, and my personal opinion was, I cannot see how housing on the other side of the river, separated by a mature wad of trees, would stop visitors from enjoying the attraction.

“Everyone agrees Abbotsford House is vitally important to the Borders tourism industry, and should be protected.

“I don’t know anyone who visits famous landmarks who says they’re not going back because they can see real living life way in the distance.

“This proposal isn’t for things to be stuck way up in the air, or for a sewage works or a prison – it’s for houses for people to live in.

“We’re talking about a glimpse – a glimpse of these houses behind some trees at certain times of the year.”

Councillor Mark Rowley, who represents Mid Berwickshire, seconded Mr Aitchison’s motion, telling the meeting: “I think officers have gone through the right processes, but have simply made the wrong judgement.

“It’s a finely balanced judgement but they’ve just gone in the wrong direction.

“There’s a lot of building going on in Gala at the moment and there is already allocation for 1,100 homes, many of those affordable, many of those supported by the council such as Beech Avenue. This won’t hold Gala back.

“We’ve had the usual stock objections to Abbotsford’s view. It’s alway paraphrased as ‘the trees will hide it, no-one will stop coming, it’s only relevant some of the time, what’s all the fuss about?’

“Well, I’ve read in detail the 92 individual references that relate to Netherbarns. The case that it is irrelevant and isn’t going to affect visitors is wrong, wrong, wrong.”

Despite this, councillors voted by 11 votes to 18 to dismiss Mr Aitchison’s amendment, which would have removed Netherbarns from the LDP.

In the print edition of the Border Telegraph, published on Wednesday (September 23), the chairman of campaign group Save Scott’s Countryside branded the Netherbarns plans “short-sighted”.

In his letter, Charles Humphries, 75, wrote: “Netherbarns is directly across the Tweed, smack in the face of Abbotsford.

“To pretend that a suburban development there can be adequately screened [from view of Abbotsford] is nonsense.”

Other objectors to the plans included the Abbotsford Trust, which looks after the historic home.

In a submission to the council, the trust argued that trees would fail to provide effective shielding and “would in themselves damage the historic setting of Abbotsford, as their character and make-up is at odds with the designed landscape”.

The trust added: “Abbotsford is one of Scotland’s most important cultural assets and should not be diminished by a development of houses at Netherbarns, which will impact on Abbotsford’s house, gardens and designed landscape.

“It would be ironic if, as we approach Scott’s 250th anniversary and with the eyes of the nation upon us, diggers were to greet visitors across the Tweed.”

Before the full meeting on Friday, a council spokesperson sent a statement to the Border Telegraph about the Netherbarns plans.

The spokesperson said the latest plans are “materially different” from previous submissions.

“The most notable difference is that this submission does not include housing in the section of the field closest to Abbotsford House,” said the spokesperson.

“The proposed housing would instead be in the topmost section of the site, set behind mature woodland, with additional planting also proposed to provide further screening.”