A BORDERS school has withdrawn controversial plans to build an artificial sports pitch.

St Mary’s School, in Melrose, wanted to install a 3G surface, covered by an air-supported dome, on the playing fields behind the Abbey Mill.

But the plans, which received a raft of formal objections, have now been withdrawn by the private school.

Headmaster Liam Harvey described the proposal as “misunderstood” and revealed why the project has been shelved.

“We were aware of the anxiety being caused by our proposal,” said Mr Harvey.

“We just thought that perhaps people have enough to worry about at the minute without such a change within close proximity to that site.”

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Melrose already has an artificial playing surface at the Greenyards, the home of Melrose RFC.

The new pitch, off Annay Road, would have been marked up with four tennis courts, as well as offering space for football, hockey and netball.

Mr Harvey said the facility, which could have cost up to £1 million to build, would have been available for the school in the day and the general public in the evenings.

“We were in a position to be able to facilitate that for the school and the community,” he said.

“As a gift to the town and the community it would have been quite something.

“I was really sad that people who are very keen on health and exercise aren’t going to be able to benefit from this facility.”

Border Telegraph: St Mary's School, in Melrose, has withdrawn plans for an artificial pitch. Photo: Helen BarringtonSt Mary's School, in Melrose, has withdrawn plans for an artificial pitch. Photo: Helen Barrington

Mr Harvey, the headmaster for the last 11 years, added that the school would not have charged “an arm and a leg” for people to use the pitch and that on-site parking would have been provided.

The field where the proposed pitch would have gone is within close proximity to two National Trust of Scotland gardens, a number of holiday cottages and one permanent resident.

Mr Harvey says the school was aware of the area’s “sensitivities” before submitting the application.

“We were looking at a temporary air dome,” he said. “Given the sensitivities of the area we would have had it up for three to five years, then based on popularity and demand we would have reviewed it.

“It would have been fantastic for the school, fantastic for the development of hockey. Some of the senior pupils were told about it and were excited.”

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According to Mr Harvey, some Melrose residents were concerned about the potential size of the dome, the noise of the generator used to support it and people driving around St Mary’s Road “at all hours”.

Mr Harvey cited these “untruths” as potential reasons for the amount of objections to the proposal.

“I think scaremongering spooked people in the town,” he said.

“[The proposal was] misunderstood, probably as a result of one or two inaccurate facts being bandied around.”

The plans received 45 formal objection comments on Scottish Borders Council’s planning page.

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After seeing the level of resistance, the school hosted an open public consultation to discuss any fears residents might have, with only one person attending.

However, as objections continued, Mr Harvey hoped to attend a community council meeting to address the concerns, only for it to be cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The timing was frustrating,” said Mr Harvey.

“I was going to the community council meeting because we understand the sensitivities.

“COVID meant that we weren’t able to set the record straight.”

Although the application has been withdrawn, Mr Harvey says the school may return to the proposal in the future.