The planning application for a new Madras College at Pipeland has been rejected by members of Fife Council’s north east planning committee.
At a special meeting of the committee in St Andrews Town Hall on Thursday afternoon, councillors spent three hours examining and debating the plans before voting 7-6 to refuse the application.
However, it is far from the end of the process.
The committee’s decision to recommend refusal will go before the full Fife Council on April 3. If the full Council decides to go against the committee’s recommendation and approve the application, it will still need to be referred to Scottish Government ministers.
Councillors raised a number of issues regarding sports facilities, building on green belt land, potential impact on the nearby community hospital, the visual impact on St Andrews and drainage at the site.
But much of the discussion centred on whether there were any suitable alternative sites available for the new secondary school.
Councillor Keith McCartney believed it was wrong to dismiss the North Haugh site as an alternative on the basis of it being a split site, suggesting an underpass under the A91 which runs between North Haugh and Station Park, used as sports fields, would be an acceptable solution.
Planning officer Elspeth Cook pointed out the applicant (Fife Council’s education service) wanted all facilities contained within one site, and this had been agreed by the Council’s executive committee.
But Councillor David McDiarmid, who went on to propose the motion to refuse the application, responded: “The only reason we have Pipeland on the table today is because we are calling the Pond site (North Haugh) a split site.
“This application comes out of desperation to get the school built somewhere.”
There was some frustration that a number of questions relating to finance and alternative sites – particularly North Haugh - were deemed not to be relevant to the process of considering the Pipeland application.
Councillor Tim Brett said: “In this report we are being told there are lots of reasons why we should not be approving this, but it comes back to the fact that we may approve it because there are a lack of alternative sites. However, we are not really being allowed to go into this.”
Councillor Bryan Poole, Fife Council’s education spokesman, who proposed the application should be approved, acknowledged this was a difficult decision for councillors, and setting aside a number of policies to allow this to go ahead was not something any councillor did lightly.
However, he said the key issues were whether there was an established need and whether there was no other site available.
Councillor Poole said: “I think there is unanimity that there is an established need that has not been met for several years, so it comes down to the site. I haven’t heard an argument to contradict the fact that the planning officers are saying there are no other suitable sites available.”
Councillor Poole was joined by Tim Brett, Donald Lothian, Frances Melville, Margaret Taylor and Brian Thomson is voting in favour of approving the application.
But Councillor McDiarmid’s motion to refuse was carried, thanks to the support of Bill Connor, John Docherty, Andy Heer, Donald Macgregor, Keith McCartney and Dorothea Morrison.