Further indications have been given that the development of the Lowood Estate in the Central Borders will see the volume of houses accommodated on the site increase from the original figure of 300.
A series of documents outlining Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) for the attractive estate by the banks of the Tweed - purchased from two Cayman Islands-based companies for £9.6 million by Scottish Borders Council - will be considered by councillors later this month.
The SPG has been provided by consultants LUC who were commissioned by the local authority last year. The proposals for the Lowood/Tweedbank area will be the subject of twelve weeks of public consultation once the documentation is approved by the full council.
LUC's reports include the following statement: "295 Residential units (indicative only) This figure confirms the indicative number of 300 units on the site as stated in the LDP [Local Development Plan] can be provided.
"It should be noted that it is likely applications for each (of the five) zones may exceed the indicative number and therefore the overall figure will be increased. Any proposed increase in numbers will be subject to scrutiny in terms of design, site layout and infrastructure provision."
The prospect of the increase in house numbers is repeated in a separate report to the council by Rob Dickson, SBC's Executive Director and Charles Johnston, lead planner.
Their submission explains: "The LDP states an indicative figure of approximately 300 housing units on the site. The Draft SPG identifies an indicative housing number for each zone and confirms that number can be achieved.
"The figures for each zone are indicative only and it is likely that in practice the overall number of units will exceed this number. This is not unusual and the critical test is whether a proposal for each zone is acceptable in terms of design, site layout and infrastructure issues are satisfactorily resolved."
Critics have already claimed even 300 houses on Lowood would represent over-development and would have the potential to ruin the estate's attractiveness. It seems certain further criticism will be levelled at the proposals during the forthcoming consultation.
LUC's report also outlines proposals for a neighbourhood centre with opportunities for tourist related provision and for infill commercial spaces such as studios, workshops and small retail. The future redevelopment of Lowood House, the mansion which is currently home to the Hamilton family could involve hotel, education, residential or commercial use. There are also plans for a commercial zone at Tweedbank..
A mission statement included in the report states: "The historic heart of the site is envisioned to carry through into a strong neighbourhood centre and act as an anchor point for new place making. Design solutions to the individual zones will be subject to further detailed development, building on the general criteria already identified in the Council’s Place making and Design SPG.
"The site has relatively limited existing development, creating a real opportunity for the development of these zones to provide unique, high quality design solutions which will act as an exemplar and introduce more creative and contextual contemporary design to the Scottish Borders.
"The historic estate character of the site can act as a creative springboard for place making – creating something bold and new with a strong sense of place. The development of the site as whole and the individual zones themselves are likely to be carried out in a series of phases and a key consideration will be the need to ensure that each phase of work can be completed fully, including appropriate boundary treatments to avoid having “raw” edges."
And in a section headed Design, LUC suggest: "In general these residential zones should draw inspiration from the traditional layout of Borders towns and villages with mixed density housing. In each residential zone developers should aim for the highest standards of architecture and design, whether contemporary or traditional in feel."
The SPG also reveals: "A preliminary energy analysis for the site has been undertaken by ARUP on behalf of the Council, based on a broad range of assumptions for the technologies assessed. In the absence of a spatial masterplan and firm plans for the buildings proposed for Lowood, initial indications suggest that the most viable technology option, based on the assumptions for homes, other buildings, site density, etc, will be distributed air source heat pumps. Roof-mounted PV and solar hot water heating could also provide a compatible renewable contribution of power and heat."
There are no detailed development costs for the project within the published SPG.
But Mr Dickson and Mr Johnston say: "The Council has developed a detailed financial model for the costs of acquisition of the Lowood site and the wider redevelopment of Tweedbank. The model shows the costs of development of the various tranches of the Tweedbank development, including Lowood, as these are currently understood along with the associated economic benefits and a range of scenarios associated with funding.
"The full development appraisal of the site was considered by Members previously. That initial modelling indicates that the Council’s investment in the site should be recouped through the development phases through the onward sale of the site with 179 jobs created during the construction phase and a further 173 jobs created in the post construction period, and a potential economic impact of £150 million GVA in the economy."
According to LUC: "The high quality environmental setting of the site provides an excellent location
for a 'care village' with a dementia hub, the need for which has been identified by the council, where residents and patients could receive therapeutic care.
"The proposed development offers potential to support access along the riverbank, encouraging recreational use of the area, connecting to popular tourist attractions nearby, including Abbotsford House, Melrose Abbey and Scott's View."
But a list of so-called constraints to development includes this warning: "Services to the development site face limitations. In particular the Galashiels Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW) is nearing capacity. Currently all flows from Tweedbank have to pass under the river to access the WWTW. Consideration must be given to water and sewerage provision, ensuring that the infrastructure is appropriate for the number of units developed".