THE Scottish Government could be asked to tighten up its planning policies so the economy and future viability of local communities like Cupar do not suffer at the hands of major retailers.
Last week the Fife Herald revealed Tesco had delayed building its new store in the town and with it the promise of 250 jobs.
It will review the decision next January.
The retailer has been involved in negotiations with Fife Council for almost 10 years, during which time it has submitted applications for extending its present store, building a new store and demolishing its present store.
In May 2009 permission was granted for the new store and with it a number of conditions involving what was sold, opening times, traffic controls on South Road, and community benefit.
However, since then nothing has happened and the former Reekie’s site remains a deserted wasteland.
And, because Tesco didn’t sign the legal contract until July 2010 — over a year later — the retailer can leave the site vacant until 2015 if it wishes.
The latest news has prompted anger in the town, with some people accusing Tesco of buying the land to keep its competition out.
Many people have also commented that Aldi could have built a new store on the former Martex site if it hadn’t been for the fact planners rejected the plan on the grounds that this, coupled with a new Tesco store, would have “a detrimental effect on the existing town centre.”
Frustrated by Tesco’s delaying tactics, local independent councillor Bryan Poole has now written to the chair of Fife Council’s planning committee asking him to support a motion which could see the local authority request that the Scottish Government adjust planning policies to prevent ‘land-banking’.
In a letter to Councillor John Beare, he said Tesco had applied to build in several Fife towns, each with it the promise of creating hundreds of new jobs.
Referring to Cupar, Councillor Poole said: “The process has been akin to ‘planning creep’ with each new application creating divisions in the local community and at each application Fife Council is accused of being ‘unsympathetic’ of which there is no evidence.
“This has been going on for almost 10 years with Tesco making and breaking promises along the way.
“The knock-on effect on the town is very negative.
“Potentially new traders find it hard to make investment decisions based on Tesco’s ‘will we, won’t we’ approach.
“I believe this uncertainty is having a negative impact not only in Cupar but throughout Fife.”
Expressing his disappointment, North East Fife MSP Rod Campbell said he wrote to Tesco in October asking for clarification on the company’s plans for the site, but still awaited a response.
He said: “It is understandable that the people of Cupar feel aggrieved at the current situation, and I am sure that they feel let down and disappointed by the latest news, particularly given the current economic situation.
“I am concerned about the future of the site – which has now had planning permission since 2009 — and I share local scepticism about Tesco’s intentions.
“I am taking this issue very seriously and I will be discussing the matter further with local constituents and taking their comments into account.”
Commenting on the economic impact Jim McLeish, Fife Council’s service manager for regeneration, environment and place, said: “The delay in development is disappointing.
“The case made for the development by Tesco was to stem leakage from the town to larger stores in Dundee, St Andrews and Glenrothes by shoppers seeking out wider choice and availability.
“The benefit of retaining shoppers in Cupar will now be later than hoped for and could cause uncertainty for other businesses who are considering new investment.
“The impact of a large vacant site will affect the perception of the town, but Cupar is still a vibrant place with much to attract shoppers to the town centre.
“We will continue to work with the Association of Businesses in Cupar and District and Cupar Futures to bring investment to the town.“
Canon Pat McInally, chair of Cupar Community Council, said: “There was an air of dismay at this week’s meeting that the site could lie empty for another three years.
“We think a recommendation should be made to Tesco/Fife Council to have that area landscaped, or developed in some other way until a decision is finally taken about a new store.”