Neighbors rally against village eviction notice – BBC News

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Protesters gathered outside the home of 67-year-old Grace Donaldson

The Border housing association has been accused of “ripping the heart out” of the rural village.

Eviction notices have been served to Berwickshire Housing Association (BHA) tenants in Westruther to allow their homes to be torn down.

Neighboring unfinished construction by the Eildon Housing Association (EHA) also looks set to be demolished.

Tenant Grace Donaldson said: “If I get kicked out, I will lose my job. I will lose everything.”

Westruther, with a population of about 600 people, is on the lower slopes of the Lammermuir Hills between the towns of Lauder and Gordon.

Prior to the Covid pandemic, tenants on Edgar Road were looking forward to a planned upgrade program for their property.

Planning permission was also recently granted to EHA for 10 family homes to be built on the land across the street.

But during the summer of 2021, BHA’s tenants were told they would be evicted – and work on the new Eildon came to a halt.

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The new Eildon development on Edgar Road was abandoned by builders two years ago

One family, with three children, have now left Edgar Road for an alternative home 11 miles away in Duns.

If an eviction notice, which has been filed in Jedburgh Sheriff’s Court, against their neighbors is successful, the remaining tenants will also be forced to leave the village.

BHA said it had been working with structural engineers since 2018 to define options for the Edgar Road property.

In May 2021 board members were told it would cost £128,000 per property to bring them to the required standard, leading to a ruling that the expense was unjustifiable.

An offer to move across the street to the Eildon property was made to all tenants when demolition plans were announced.

A BHA spokesperson said: “All of Edgar Road’s remaining customers will have priority moving into their newly built Eildon home, when completed.

“It is unfortunate that there was a time lag between customers being asked to vacate their existing homes due to security concerns and the new homes being completed.”

The association said they had all been offered alternative accommodations but some customers had chosen not to accept them and had “no choice” but to initiate legal proceedings.

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Grace Donaldson has lived in her Edgar Road home for 25 years

Grace Donaldson is the caretaker, cook and janitor at a local elementary school.

The 67-year-old also runs a local food bank, heads the village flower gate committee, chairs the village hall committee, and is secretary of the regional community council.

Ms Donaldson said: “I would have lost everything because neither I nor my husband was driving.

“This has been our home for 25 years and I didn’t want to move, but they were so determined to get us out that I agreed we would move across the street to the Eildon development.

“That’s not happening right now and they want to move us to the other side of Coldstream – 20 miles away.”

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John Purves says the heart of the village is being torn apart

John Purves bought his house on Edgar Road about 15 years ago.

Despite what he describes as pressure from the BHA, he refuses to sell his semi-detached property.

Mr Purves said: “The development across the street is falling apart and there is a growing threat to the homes that are already here.

“The heart of this village is torn apart by this housing association.”

EHA confirmed that attempts earlier this year to restart construction – after the previous contractor’s collapse – had failed due to the condition of the timber framing at the site.

It also said demolition was a possible way forward.

A spokesperson explained: “A report will be presented to our board in August setting out the estimated costs and risks associated with the option.

“One of these options is to remove all structural elements currently above ground level and re-tender to complete the construction from slab upwards.

“At this stage we cannot advise on further arrangements until our board meets in August.”

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Retired engineer Bruce Brown is secretary of the Gordon and Westruther Community Council

More than 50 villagers last week attended a public meeting to agree on a plan against eviction notices.

Retired engineer Bruce Brown, who is secretary of the Gordon and Westruther community council, said: “I feel there is a huge injustice going on here.

“Just look at Grace (Donaldson) – she’s the glue that holds this village together, and she can be forced to move.

“And from everything we’ve seen, there’s been no problem with the house.”

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Ally Boyle is the chair of the elementary school’s parent council

Since the start of the pandemic, Westruther’s churches and pubs have been closed.

Ally Boyle, who is chair of the local elementary school’s parent council, believes the school could be next.

He said: “Schools have declined due to families moving due to the situation at Edgar Road, and neither Berwickshire nor Eildon have offered housing for families moving in.

“It’s heartbreaking to see our neighbors go through this.

“The stress they are under is unbearable.”

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The Berwickshire Housing Association property on Edgar Road will be demolished

The Scottish Government has confirmed that BHA has followed the guidance provided by the Scottish Housing Regulator regarding high repair costs.

But Housing Secretary Paul McLennan urged tenants and housing officials to keep talking.

He said: “I would encourage BHA and its citizens to continue dialogue to reach a solution that is acceptable to all.”

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