EXCLUSIVE by OSSIE SHEARER
House builders are demanding a staggering eight-fold increase in the amount of land allocated for new homes in the Scottish Borders over the next ten years even though they have consistently failed to meet completion targets which slumped to an all time low in 2014.
The yawning gap between the figure of 4,989 additional building plots being touted by construction industry pressure group Homes for Scotland and the 630 allowed for in Scottish Borders Council's Local Development Plan (LDP) is one of the key unresolved issues currently being examined by Scottish Government planning officials.
The examination of the LDP, which began last October, is expected to be completed next month. In the course of the investigations into dozens of planning issues the council and interested parties have been invited to submit further information to Scottish Ministers, and a hearing took place earlier this year when the dispute over the allocation of housing land was the topic for discussion.
According to the published LDP, there are sufficient development sites spread across the region to accommodate 13,422 new houses between 2009 and 2025. This includes the 630 extra houses which could be built on 15 sites, and there is added flexibility provided as the LDP also allocates 51 redevelopment opportunities covering 62 hectares.
Borders planners state: "In overall terms the Scottish Borders provides a large and generous housing land supply, in part to meet the diverse geographies of the area, but also reflecting the Council's desire to promote economic development. The total established supply is substantially in excess of current demand."
That claim is backed up by a series of statistics on the achievements of house builders, many of them members of Homes for Scotland. The council says: "It is noted that the house building sector has not delivered the requirement for the period 2009 to 2014, falling short by 2,988 units, based on 1,837 completions and a requirement of 4,825."
The average rate of completions during the period was 367 houses and the total has not exceeded 306 in each of the last three years.
"The significant decrease in completions across the Borders is a result of the economic downturn; many of the sites under construction have stalled due to lack of developer and mortgage finance", the council has told Scottish Ministers. "The release of further land would not solve the issue of market demand."
Homes for Scotland together with several planning consultants working for clients in the private sector do not accept the council's statistics and recommendations.
The national housing agency, which challenges policy makers on behalf of its members, argue that the 630 extra homes allowed for in the LDP is at least 3,709 short of the 4,399 required. And if a so-called 10% generosity allowance is built in to the calculations Homes for Scotland believes there would be an additional need for 4,989 homes.
To give that figure some context, between them the towns of Selkirk (2,779) and Jedburgh (1,915) currently have 4,694 households while Peebles has 4,034, according to the 2011 census.
So is Homes for Scotland and its members seriously suggesting the Borders will need the equivalent of another Jedburgh and Selkirk or an additional expanded Peebles as well as the extensive collection of development sites already available by 2025? If so, the Borders Railway will need to generate a housing boom the like of which has never been seen in the region's history.