Education chief in site comments row

Councillor Douglas Chapman
Councillor Douglas Chapman
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CRITICISM has been levelled at a leading Fife councillor after he appeared to pour cold water on a campaign for a new secondary school to be developed at Station Park, St Andrews — despite a promise by the local authority that all the prospective sites would receive equal consideration.

The claims by Education and Children’s Services Committee chair Councillor Douglas Chapman that such a proposal would likely meet with opposition and be the subject of ‘a lengthy public inquiry’ have been hotly disputed.

A St Andrews parent contacted the Citizen expressing his disbelief at the councillor’s comments as the local authority prepares to make a final decision on the location of the new £40 million single-site Madras College — at a crunch meeting which will be chaired by the SNP councillor from Rosyth.

PREFERENCE

In a recent statement the local authority promised all potential sites would be given equal consideration and all options would be looked at using the same criteria prior to next month’s all-important meeting of the education and children’s services committee.

However, in the same media release, Councillor Chapman highlighted in particular the preference by one group — led by former Madras rector Lindsay Matheson — of Station Park, the school’s current playing fields on the approach to the town.

He said: “The huge elephant in the room would be around deliverability for this site. Most people are well aware of how controversial any proposal to build on playing fields and green space would be. Whether we could make fast enough progress, without an objector taking us through a lengthy public enquiry, to deliver a school on this site by 2015 would be a real issue.”

He said this would require to be considered when weighing up a decision and the council was taking further planning and legal advice on the matter, which would be shared with parents during the engagement process.

His comments have been roundly condemned by the parent who has branded it as “quite outrageous” that the councillor should express doubts over the deliverabilty of Station Park for a new school — while at the same time stating that all sites will be given ‘equal consideration’.

The local man, who wishes to remain anonymous, added: ”It is factually incorrect to say that an objector can take the council through a lengthy public inquiry. An objector cannot force a public inquiry. The only way that I can see a public inquiry occurring would be if Scottish Ministers called the application in due to it being a significant departure from the Development Plan.

“Even if an application was called-in, it would not automatically be the subject of a public inquiry. Scottish Ministers must allow a public inquiry into any called-in application if this is requested by the applicant, or the relevant planning authority and Fife Council would be both in the case of Station Park, so that would be unlikely.

He added: “If no such request was made, then it would be up to Scottish Ministers to decide whether the Reporter appointed to consider the application will do so through written submissions, an informal hearing or full public inquiry.

“I may be wrong, but the council should be able to easily make a reasonable and convincing argument for approving a planning application for a school on an existing school playingfield, thus avoiding a call-in from Scottish ministers.

He went on to say: ”Councillor Chapman also states that legal advice is being taken by the council regarding Station Park. Unless there are some restrictive covenants on the site, I don’t see why any legal advice is required.”

In a separate point on Station Park and the comments by some that maintaining the vista as people enter the town would be a major stumbling block, the parent said that it should be remembered that this is not an ancient historical route into St Andrews.

TRAFFIC

He concluded: “It is only since the late 1960s, early 1970s, that traffic has entered the town by this route along the realigned elevated A91, having previously used the old Guardbridge Road, which now serves the Old Course Hotel and the golf courses. The height of the wall along that road, and its low-lying nature, prevented drivers and passengers getting any view of the golf course or the town, even before the hotel was built.”

Meanwhile, in response to questions raised by the Citizen, the council has conceded that Station Park is large enough for a new school, plus sports pitches etc and would still leave sufficient room for Madras FP Rugby Club and its facilities, although an indicative plan is not yet available if it was the eventual choice.

Colin McCredie, of property services, said:”Construction of the school on Station Park would still allow adequate space for anticipated use of the pitches by both school and community. The potential location of the school would be informed by a full site analysis which would take account of any impact on the surrounding environs.

“Development plans are not available as site selection and detailed site analysis has not yet been concluded.”