‘Doctored’ photographs dispute over timber yard’s Midlothian to Borders relocation

Monday June 12th 2023

Pentland Biomass

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Paul Kelly

A dispute over ‘doctored’ photographs will be on the agenda next week when a Midlothian timber yard’s bid to relocate to the Scottish Borders is decided.

An application for planning permission for a timber storage and processing facility on land south west of Westloch farmhouse in Peebles was refused by Scottish Borders Council after it was decided that an economic/operational need for its location in a countryside location had not been established.

The applicant, Pentland Biomass in Loanhead, is part of Pentland Plants horticultural business and garden centre.

Bosses at Pentland Biomass are seeking relocation as its current site has been identified by Midlothian Council as the preferred location for realignment of the A701 road.

The planning bid also included a house for the manager of the timber yard.

After an extensive search for an alternative base the Westloch farm site was identified as the ideal location as it is within a recently planted highly commercial conifer forest.

But the application resulted in a number of objections amid concerns that it would impact on local residents, result in increased traffic, smells and noise nuisance.

Now the company is to appeal the refusal of planning permission to the council’s Local Review Body on Monday, June 19.

In the appeal information to be submitted to the review body, from Edinburgh-based planning consultants John Handley Associates, representing the applicant Richard Spray, it is claimed that SBC planning officer Ranald Dods made a “quite misleading and entirely erroneous statement” by claiming in his report that a photograph of houses associated with the Midlothian facility had been “foreshortened and make the houses appear much closer to the timber processing facility than they are”.

The appeal statement says: “These photographs were taken by the applicant and have not been edited in any way. Why the planning officer considers it necessary to imply to the Local Review Body that the applicant has doctored these photographs is not known.

“But what this comment from the planning officer does confirm, is his total failure to understand the proposals being advanced by Pentland Biomass.

“It is therefore our submission that the Local Review Body must give no weight to any of the comments from the planning officer. He has quite clearly failed to understand the proposals, the site or the relevant planning policies, and his determination of the original application is quite clearly flawed.”

In response to the accusation Mr Dods states: “It is clear from these photographs that the timber processing facility, which has been operating for approximately 15 years, operates without the need for an on-site presence in the form of a house.

“The second photograph shows a log splitter which would appear to be located adjacent to the Pentland Plants glasshouses rather than in the timber processing facility.

“The second and third photographs are foreshortened and make the houses appear much closer to the timber processing facility than they are.”

One of the objectors to the switch is Tweeddale West’s Liberal Democrat councillor Drummond Begg, who said: “I have been contacted by a number of local residents raising concerns at the choice of the site for this timber processing plant.

“The three major concerns are dust, noise and heavy goods traffic. All appear problematic.

“I share the concerns that this processing plant appears to be on a site which is close to a residential area impacting on a number of households. It is hard to see how noise and dust pollution can be mitigated satisfactorily.

“It is also hard to see how lorries required for the operation will operate without impacting on cyclists and walkers in this tourist area.”

In a supporting planning statement with the application a spokesperson for Pentland Biomass said: “Pentland Biomass is an established and successful business with a significant turnover and currently employ 10 staff. The proposed relocation of the timber yard operation from Loanhead to Westloch would represent a significant investment in the local rural area and would help secure the long-term future of the existing workforce as well as provide a range of new local employment opportunities.

“It is estimated that the new facility at Westloch would employ 10 to 15 staff on both a full and part-time basis.”

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