News and Current Issues
Renewed Threat to Abbotsford House
Netherbarns: 2020 Argument against Inclusion in Proposed LDP2
Twenty to Thirty Objections to its inclusion—there is some pooling of responses in the ‘Summary of MIR Responses ’.
Not one individual supported the Developer’s arguments.
Proposals for housing estate development on this site have previously been rejected at Public Inquiries—four times in twelve years!
As described by Historic Scotland, is “a highly landscape orientated set piece... whose public rooms were all ... designed to take full advantage of the view... directly across the river Tweed to where the Netherbarns site is located.”
As described by a volunteer, the atmosphere and views from Abbotsford’s terrace and grounds “make it greatly appreciated both by visitors and locals as an area of outstanding beauty and tranquility”. Their present experience reflects Scott’s intentions.
The Netherbarns site
This has itself has been associated with an Area of Great Landscape Value.
The site is highly visible in the wider landscape, not just in views from Abbotsford and from the Designed Landscape, but also in views towards them.
It is visible to walkers on the Southern Upland Way; and to visitors, including those heading for the Eildon and Leaderfoot National Scenic Area, arriving along the A7.
The 2007 Local Plan Inquiry (LPI) “agreed that it would be very undesirable for the Galashiels urban area to extend any further to the south along the Tweed Valley”, which of course is not the natural water valley of the town.
The 2015 LPI concluded that “the re-opening of the railway link to Galashiels is likely to increase the volume of visitors to Abbotsford, therefore further strengthening the need to protect the heritage of the vicinity”.
In their current proposals, the Developers are making claims about sight-lines and screening.
Much of the potential, summer screening already comes from the line of trees along the riverbank—but this is deteriorating and back in 2007 the LPI agreed with objectors that “the major tree belt along the river cannot be relied upon to provide an effective screen, either at present (in winter conditions and from higher elevations) or in the future (at all times and from lower as well as higher elevations)”.
The 2015 LPI concluded that they “did not accept that the woodland screening would adequately mitigate the adverse impacts of the allocation on the setting of the house or the designed landscape. Additionally, the re-opening of the railway link to Galashiels is likely to increase the volume of visitors to Abbotsford, therefore further strengthening the need to protect the heritage of the vicinity”.
We agree that protecting the Setting of Abbotsford is about more than trying to hide a housing estate behind curtains of tree-planting; and the issue cannot be reduced to being just about the views, seasonal or otherwise, from Abbotsford House.
On-site landscaping and tree-planting, as proposed by the Developers, is not going to mitigate the impact of a 45 unit housing estate on the vicinity of the House and its Managed Landscape.
Planning policy concerning cultural heritage goes way beyond simple economics, but focusses on the intrinsic value of the special place to be protected. The protection afford by policy cannot be cast aside on seasonal grounds.
In any case, the suggestion that visitors aren’t around Abbotsford in the winter months is simply not true.
The work of the Melrose Paths Group has led to all-year round walking in the Designed Landscape; and the welcome, and increasing, number of initiatives being undertaken at Abbotsford, both inside and outside the House, mean there is already more winter use of the House and Grounds by community and family groups.
The 2015 LPI was not thinking seasonally in concluding that “the re-opening of the railway link to Galashiels is likely to increase the volume of visitors to Abbotsford, therefore further strengthening the need to protect the heritage of the vicinity”.
The Way Forward
We continue to say that a housing estate here would be inappropriate in character and scale, but that a small, landscaped build of just a handful of houses with associated features, such as orchards, woodland or stables, would provide a softening of the town’s present hard edge at Kingsknowes-- and an appropriate, irrevocable transition between town and countryside.
The history of this site calls out for this solution.
We have previously announced our plans to launch a Nationwide Competition For A Masterplan for Netherbarns, but only in the event that the site is adopted for such modest development.
Therefore, in relation to the forthcoming Proposed Local Development Plan, we urge our Councillors to reject, for the reasons set out above, any proposal to include Netherbarns as a housing allocation.
PRESS RELEASE - PRESS RELEASE
Abbotsford again threatened by “Smack-in-the-face” suburban development
Save Scott’s Countryside, the local group campaigning to preserve the environment of the central Tweed Valley, has called on Scottish Borders Councillors to reject development at Netherbarns, opposite Abbotsford. The group has responded to the likelihood that Netherbarns will be proposed for development in The Council’s forthcoming Local Plan, due to be voted on this month. It has also called for an investigation into the way SBC’s planning department has repeatedly attempted to zone these fields for development.
Chairman Charles Humphries said, “The central Tweed Valley is under too much pressure already with the very large Lowood development going ahead, and we fear planners have not given up their efforts to get Netherbarns added to the mix. Abbotsford is a highly landscape-oriented set piece, with house, grounds and surrounding landscape all designed by Scott himself. Netherbarns is directly across the Tweed, smack in the face of Abbotsford. To pretend that a suburban development can be adequately screened is nonsense: even the developer has said that proposed planting would take years to be effective, and then only in the summer, while the existing mature tree screen is deteriorating steadily.”
Netherbarns has a long planning history: four times the Scottish Government has saved Abbotsford from development there. In 2008 Ministers “...accepted without doubt the importance of the locality in terms of landscape, historic and cultural interest... Despite some screening - reduced during the winter - it was considered that there would be an increased visual impact on Abbotsford as a consequence of any urban development of Netherbarns.” (Full text attached below.)
Most recently in 2014, when 45 houses had been proposed, the Scottish Government reporter stated, “It appears to me that cultural and landscape considerations combine to provide an asset (Abbotsford) which should remain free of the impact of the suggested allocation and any subsequent development of Netherbarns.” (Full text attached below.) Preparing the new local plan last year, the planning department again proposed 45 houses for Netherbarns; with consultation drawing significant opposition both from members of the public and Scottish Natural Heritage.
"What is it about NO that planners don’t understand?” Mr Humphries added. “And what’s the point of consultation? Same site, same number of houses, a deteriorating tree screen, and a tourist attraction of international importance which arguably needs protecting more than ever. What on earth is going on? We trust Councillors will have the good sense to boot this one out. They should also be investigating the planning department’s persistent promotion of the site, at odds with all the planning policy designed to protect places like Abbotsford.”
Letter to The Editor, Southern Reporter,
Dear Sir, Abbotsford House and Netherbarns
I wish to draw your readers attention to the very real possibility that Scottish Borders Council may, at its full meeting on Thursday 26th March, put the site at Netherbarns into yet another Local Development Plan as a housing estate. This despite the fact that similar proposals were thrown out of such previous plans at Public Inquiries—four times in the space of twelve years!
What is it about ‘NO’ that our planners don’t understand?Why do they keep coming back to an idea which is at odds with all the planning policy designed to protect places like Abbotsford?
We were incredulous a year ago when the Council’s planning officers again suggested allocating the site for an estate of forty-five houses—on the banks of the Tweed opposite to Abbotsford House and its special, Managed Landscape.
So much so that we announced plans to launch a Nationwide Competition For A Masterplan for Netherbarns, if the site were to be adopted for much more modest development—a small, landscaped build of just a handful of houses with features such as orchards, woodland or stables, which would provide a softening of the town’s present hard edge at Kingsknowes.
When, after the last Local Plan, the Council was obliged by the Government’s planners to provide sites for 916 more houses throughout the whole Borders, nearly 40% were planned to be no more than two miles from Abbotsford!
This included the three hundred houses at Lowood, now set to go ahead.
This means the central Tweed Valley is under too much pressure already.
Netherbarns is directly across the Tweed, smack in the face of Abbotsford. To pretend that a suburban development there can be adequately screened is nonsense. Even the developer has said that proposed planting would take years to be effective, and then only in the summer, while the existing mature tree screen is deteriorating steadily.
Abbotsford House, with its Grounds and Managed Landscape is now, thanks to the efforts of its Trustees and Volunteers, and the Borders Railway, a special place to the increasing numbers of people who visit. We cannot allow its setting to be messed up.
We therefore ask readers to contact their local Councillors, urging them to display their good sense and block such a short-sighted “end” to the unhappy saga of threats to what is our heritage and tourism asset of greatest international standing—as well as a source of beauty and tranquility for us more local folk to enjoy.
Anyone wishing to see our full argument can go to our website at savescottscountryside.org.uk
Anyone wishing to join our mailing list can do so by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles Humphries, Chairman, Save Scott's Countryside.
Housing Estate on Lower Slopes Of Eildon Hills
In 2018, Developers brought forward proposals to build 28 Houses on The Croft site at Melrose.
The site had controversially been allocated for housing many years ago--despite being on the lower slopes of the iconic Eildons in our small and vulnerable National Scenic Area at a point where most visitors start walking both St Cuthbert's Way and the Eildons themselves.
Despite a vigorous local campaign and, when it seemed clear Scottish Borders Council was likely to approve a Modified Proposal, our arguments to mitigate the landscape damage by reducing numbers and the majority of houses to single storey, the Application was Approved with only minor modifications.
Next City Region Plan
The South East Scotland City Region has started to prepare the next Strategic Development Plan, which was intended to replace the current plan in 2017 and is intended to be effective for the next twenty years, to finish in 2037.
The first stage was the Consultation about the Main Issues to be addressed.
One of the headline targets is to secure a 25% increase in households and, given Edinburgh's previous solution of looking to the Borders to secure growth of its workforce, we were nervous of being lined up for a second hit. However, at this stage at least, this does not appear to be the preferred approach--but will need watching.
Currently the SESplanners are looking to the constituent Local Authorities for confirmation of their latest Affordable Housing plans to help inform the region's Housing Supply targets.
The Consultation on the Main Issues Report can be found at:
A Borders National Park?
Various groups, including at national level the Scottish Campaign for National Parks and the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, and interested individuals have begun campaigning for the creation of a new National Park, which would obviously deliver benefit to our local landscape--though we note a present suggestion for boundary does not include Abbotsford's Managed Landscape!
The Campaign commissioned an Independent Feasiblity Study, as requested by Scottish Borders Council.
In September 2017 the authors, Duncan Bride Associates, endorsed the feasibility and socio-economic benefits. The Campaign is preparing a Position Statement.
Details of the campaign, events planned and opportunities to comment or get involved, can be found on their web-site at: