Area forum loses power on planning

Control overdevelopments like the controversial Lomond Quarry has been taken away from Glenrothes Area Committee
Control overdevelopments like the controversial Lomond Quarry has been taken away from Glenrothes Area Committee

A CONTROVERSIAL plan to strip local forums of the power to rule on planning bids has been given the go-ahead by councillors.

Fife Council’s ruling Labour administration claimed the proposal was a crucial step in allowing it to deal with serious issues facing the region, including a housing crisis.

But opponents alleged that taking the responsibility away from area committees and vesting it in new ones covering wider geographical areas would damage local democracy.

There were angry exchanges as councillors debated the plans at a full meeting of the Glenrothes-based local authority last Thursday.

Scottish National Party planning and enterprise spokesman, John Beare, called for retention of the current system, which his party had introduced during its time in power.

The Glenrothes North and Leslie councillor said Labour’s plans amounted to a “development charter”.

Area committees - including that serving Glenrothes - would be de-nuded of power and responsibility and centralised, in stark contrast to the de-centralisation, transparency and accountability Labour had promised when it took office after May’s council elections.

He added: “I am moving this amendment for one reason and for one reason only - I believe it is in the interests of Fife’s communities, residents and businesses to do so.

“I really am significantly troubled by these centralising proposals, as are the 34 community councils who oppose these measures.

“Not that they were consulted, but I take heart that they have not only found out about these proposals, but have actually made a stand and come together.

“If councillor Alex Rowley has done anything, he has united the community councils against himself,” councillor Beare said of the Labour leader.

“Today’s proposals are little more than a cute political fudge.”

Earlier councillor Rowley had claimed the move would make Fife the easiest place to do business, allowing a drive for investment, jobs and prosperity.

Area committees would be free to deal with the most pressing issues in their communities, while planning could be dealt with by councillors with a genuine interest in that field.

He added that while which committee took decisions on planning matters was probably of little interest to the public, it was of great importance to businesses.

He went on: “Over the last few year I have lost count of the number of times that businesses have raised the planning system with me and have put the question ‘is having eight planning committees the best way to do business for Fife.’

“I believe the proposals put forward today will achieve what business is asking for - more knowledgeable and skilled councillors in a reduced committee structure with a developing expertise and greater scope for training and development, and more specialised and simplified processes to assist business in understanding decision-making arrangements and providing clarity.”

The proposal was passed by 38 votes to 34 on a roll call of councillors.

The planning powers which Glenrothes Area Committee previously possessed - and which allowed it to rule on controversial issues like Lomond Quarry (pictured above) - will now be given to a Central Fife planning committee, of the type that operated before the current system.