THE future of a controversial Melrose housing project is uncertain amid a proposed council planning U-turn.

A bid to remove a ‘woodland buffer zone’ from a development at the foot of the Eildon Hills has been submitted to Scottish Borders Council (SBC).

The plans first surfaced in 2018 and approval was granted to build 28 homes on the Croft, near Dingleton Road, in July the following year.

A condition was made that applicant Rural Renaissance was required to “identify an area of woodland outwith the site to its south eastern edge and make proposals for the retention, maintenance, regeneration and management of the woodland”.

Now Rural Renaissance – the parent company of JS Crawford, which recently ceased trading – wants SBC to axe the condition to allow the development to go ahead.

The company argues that the land earmarked is outside the original application site boundary and outwith its ownership.

A statement as part of the application, on behalf of Rural Renaissance, said: “We wish to apply for this condition to be deleted under the explanation that the area referred to is outside the planning boundary and outwith the ownership of the site.

“Therefore the applicant, Rural Renaissance Ltd, has no control over the land to which the condition relates.”

But when members of the council’s Planning and Building Standards Committee meet on Monday they will be recommended to refuse the application – despite council offers previously asking members to grant it at a meeting earlier in the month.

In her report to next week’s meeting, lead planning officer Julie Hayward says: “The trees and woodland are an important landscape resource that is vital in screening and providing a backdrop to the approved development, to protect the visual amenities of the area and the special qualities of the National Scenic Area.

“The retention, protection and long-term management of the woodland is therefore important to the design, setting and success of the development and can be achieved through the Woodland Management Scheme, to be secured by condition 24.

“The removal of this condition has not been adequately justified and so the application cannot be supported.”

When the development was approved almost five years ago, ‘Don’t Build on the Eildons’ campaigners expressed concern that some of the new properties would tower 15m about the height of Dingleton Road.

The council received 131 objections and representations against the development.

Further objections have now been received to the application to have the woodland condition removed.

One objector said: “The woodland is critical to the mitigation of the development’s visual impact on an area of local importance and natural beauty. The planning committee assured objectors that the development would only proceed with appropriate screening provided by the existing woodland.”