Gorebridge builders yard told to close operations

A builders yard operator who was accused of having council workers moonlighting at the site has been ordered to cease operations after losing a planning appeal.

The land at Ashbank, outside Gorebridge.
The land at Ashbank, outside Gorebridge.

Residents have also blamed the operation on the outskirts of Gorebridge for pulling down phone lines, driving rats into neighbouring land, and tearing out private fencing. The firm has denied all the accusations.

Peter Joyce and Son bought land at Ashbank, just outside the town, last year to expand the business.

But the firm lost a planning application for change of use from vacant land to the yard and were ordered to close down by Midlothian Council’s local review body after a string of complaints from neighbours.

During a virtual meeting of the review body this week it was claimed council workers had been spotted moonlighting at the site, phone lines serving neighbouring businesses and property had been brought down twice and that rats were driven off the land into a nearby business.

One resident accused the firm of pulling down private fencing and “land grabbing” by expanding out of the site’s boundary.

The company denied all the allegations saying they were “absolutely untrue”.

Rory Joyce, who has taken over the running of the firm from dad Peter, told the review body the company had looked for a site to expand for years without success before buying the land at Ashbank.

He insisted when he bought it it was a “scrapyard” and he did not realise he needed planning permission as he believed it was already industrial land.

And he described claims about the firm, including one that it already had an alternative site in its ownership it could have used for the expansion, as “hearsay”.

Business owner Sarah Medlam, who has run the Dog Day Care Centre next to the site for 17 years, told a virtual meeting of the review body that far from being a scrapyard when it was sold, the land had been home to pigeon doocots surrounded by grass, which the owner regularly mowed and maintained with a couple of old vehicles on it.

And she said that when work needed to be carried out on a ditch, which had been dug on a road, council workmen appeared to do it on the side claiming a council investigation had seen workers “suspended for several weeks”.

She said: “I have photographs of Midlothian Council employees back-filling where he had run his electricity and water across the road.

“I can’t say anything because I don’t have the proof but clearly something went on between these men, they didn’t just turn up and offer to do it for free.”

She went on to claim that her business had been affected by the work at the yard.

She said: “When Mr Joyce cleared the land because he said he had a rat problem, let me tell you where the rats went, they came up to day care and we were absolutely inundated with rats.”

Another neighbour told the review body her private fence had been torn down by Mr Joyce, and that part of the land the company occupied did not belong to it.

Mr Joyce told the meeting that without the site his company had nowhere else to go and pointed out he had 20 employees relying on the site as its base.

He added most workers at the site were local, some apprentices, and he needed a base which was easy for them to travel to and from.

He said: “ I understand the need to protect the countryside but I am arguing this is not the case here, this is scrubland.

“I believe I have already made improvements by removing the old cars and the sheds.”

He told the review body he had tried for four years to find an alternative site with the council but came up with nothing suitable.

He said: “The bottom line is where do we go? I have gone to the council asking for help finding a place to expand.

“I tried for four years to find somewhere. I took on a scrapyard. We are at breaking point.”

Councillor Colin Cassidy (SNP), review body member, said a site visit to the yard had left him “flabbergasted”.

He said: “It is an environmental disaster.”

Councillor Jim Muirhead (Lab) said while he sympathised with a growing business “this is not the right place for this business”.

The review body was told by planning adviser Graeme King that allowing the yard in what was a countryside location would set a national precedent.

He warned: “There are numerous small sized fields in Midlothian, granting it would encourage further piecemeal development.”

The review body agreed to dismiss the appeal and uphold the decision by planning officers, telling Mr Joyce the business would have to stop operating on the site which should be returned to its former state.

It also instructed council officials to work with Mr Joyce’s business to find alternative sites.

In relation to allegations of council staff working at the site, a council spokesperson said:“A full investigation was carried out once we were aware of allegations made. We do not comment on the outcomes of staffing matters.“

A spokesperson for Peter Joyce and Son said of the claims made: “They are absolutely untrue.”

Meanwhile, in other news, NHS Lothian’s Royal Hospital for Children and Young People is ready to celebrate a very special birthday on (Wednesday, March 23) – marking one year since the world-class facilities fully opened.