Jock Houston effectively answered his question himself in last week’s Hawick News as to why I waited so long to highlight the outdated planning policies at Scottish Borders Council. Yes I did it last week, just before the coming election to highlight the ineptitude of the departing councillors who are supposed to have represented us at SBC for the past five years (and not just the Hawick contingent).
Had I mentioned it at the time it would have been seen as sour grapes and it would have fallen on deaf ears and addled brains. Since our application was refused, my wife and I have installed disabled adaptations, converted part of our current house and have now moved on.
I did not blast the council for refusing my application but used it as one example of dozens of similar “marginal applications” being turned down all over the Borders every week. I am delighted to hear Jock Houston admitting that it is he and his fellow councillors who are wholly to blame for this ineptitude and not the council planning officers.
He states that you do not have to force officers to do things, a majority of councillors themselves only have to agree to ask for change and it will happen. So is he freely admitting that the council’s reluctance to even look at changing policy is all the fault of our elected councillors?
In 2008, there was the biggest financial crisis to hit the world since World War Two. The Westminster Government has since relaxed planning guidelines in England and last week there was a slip into a double-dip recession in the UK, due mainly to a fall in building output. Unprecedented circumstances call for unprecedented actions. But not here in the Borders, it’s just business as usual.
All this has apparently escaped the ruling council group at St Boswells. No thoughts even for a slight variation in policy to help to kick-start the beleaguered building trade in the Borders. Jock and his cohorts, not wanting to upset the cosy relations they enjoy with officers, but to get through the week with as little fuss as possible and draw the pay.
If they refuse one application per week that equates to 52 houses per year at say £200,000 each – a total of £10.5million per year is lost in revenues to the local building trade. Fifty-two houses spread all over the Borders would not even be noticed. If it were two per week then it is over £20million per year and so on. Not to mention the lost developer contributions which the council imposes on each house built to contribute to infrastructure at £4,000 per house. Hence another £208,000 of lost income to council coffers.
There is also the outdated industrial development land policy. I cannot see a queue of industries fighting for sites and yet the Council continues to refuse applications for retail on these industrial designated sites, again ignoring construction jobs and thereafter the employment within these retail stores. Also the outdated protected shop frontage policy. Empty shops are clearly visible in all Borders high Streets and yet the council does not allow ‘non retail’ which would give the council commercial rates income, create more jobs and lessen the signs of degradation in the town centres. How shortsighted are this lot?
While I do not advocate current policy being thrown out the window entirely, it may be time to consider a relaxation in these policies until such times as the building trade recovers.
Councillors such as Jock Houston, who has had a secure public sector job all his life, would surely know little of the current joblessness and hardship in the building trade and the miles workers have to travel to find work.
It is a pity that Jock Who, as he is known in Burnfoot, is not seeking re-election because I hear he has hardly been seen in Burnfoot over the last nine years, and I am certain the electorate of Hawick and Denholm were ready to dispense with his services (or lack of them). I hope that whoever won his vacated place in yesterday’s election will do better for the Hawick and Denholm ward.