EXCLUSIVE by DOUGLAS SHEPHERD
Scottish Government planning officers have rejected the claims of house builders who wanted an additional 3,750 development plots allocated in the Scottish Borders on top of the existing 9,000 units available for the construction of new homes.
Instead a detailed examination of Scottish Borders Council's Local Development Plan has concluded there is a probable shortfall of 916 plots, and the local authority has been ordered to identify additional sites within 12 months.
The decision by so-called planning Reporters, contained in a massive 1138-page report on the local plan, appears to end the long-running counter claims by builders and Borders local government officers over the crucial issue of meeting the housing land requirement.
The year-long examination of hundreds of policies included in the SBC document involved detailed analysis of dozens of submissions from various parties with a particular interest in housing, transport, wind farms and other development topics.
But it was undoubtedly the housing land dispute which occupied much of the Reporters' time after Homes for Scotland (HFS), the national organisation representing the house building industry claimed there was insufficient land allocated in the Borders to realistically meet future demand.
HFS challenged the statistics put forward by the council on housing completions, and considered the housing land shortfall was likely to be in the range of 3,250 to 3,750 units.
That argument was backed by a number of builders including the locally based J S Crawford, of Melrose. They claimed the council's proposals took no account of market demand factors or of the land requirements for affordable housing.
However, in a forthright defence of its position, SBC said the plan provided a generous and effective five year supply of land within each of the region's market areas to meet demand.
According to the council: "The industry is unable to present robust and persuasive evidence to support the position beyond their own sites, and have chosen to disengage. We remain open to meeting with house building colleagues for a constructive discussion about house building in the Borders.
"In relation to comments that there will be a shortfall of over 3,000 units this is considered untenable and contrary to proper planning. The total demand and need for the Borders is 12,537, and with an average completion rate of 450 units per annum this would provide over 28 years supply."
The three-man team of Reporters - Richard Dent, Scott Ferrie and Dilwyn Thomas - say in their report it would not be appropriate to recommend that "a further allowance of generosity be added to the housing land requirement" which was what HFS was asking for.
Instead the conclusion is a shortfall of 916 housing units. The report continues: "It would be more appropriate to require the council to prepare and adopt supplementary guidance aimed at redressing the shortfall in meeting the requirement.
"This would provide the council with an opportunity to undertake a detailed assessment of the environmental and other impacts of identifying additional housing sites, and would allow public consultation to be undertaken in that regard."