How Kirkcaldy’s most historic land almost became a multi-storey car park

Volunteers Green, Kirkcaldy - drawing from 1973 by campaign groups which prevented the Town Council from building a multi-storey car park on the green space., The drawing shows their aims for the historic space.
Volunteers Green, Kirkcaldy - drawing from 1973 by campaign groups which prevented the Town Council from building a multi-storey car park on the green space., The drawing shows their aims for the historic space.

Kirkcaldy’s unloved multi-storey car park on the Promenade very nearly swallowed up the whole of Volunteers Green.

The grim building cast a shadow over the most historic part of the Lang Toun, but if the Town Council’s original plan had gone through, then not a blade of grass would remain today.

1973 headline from Fife Free Press

1973 headline from Fife Free Press

It took a community campaign to prompt a re-think, and even that saw half of the green removed for the development.

The row began in January 1973 when councillors confirmed plans to build a multi-storey car park.

They studied five possible sites - including Nicol Street, opposite Bethelfield Church, but returned to their favoured option adjacent to Charlotte Street.

That meant swallowing up Volunteers Green – a prospect which saw a host of community groups come together in opposition.

The land was one of the last remaining parts of old Kirkcaldy which dated back to the town’s very first community.

It pre-dated Christianity, and was all that was left on nine acres of common moor gifted to the town by King Charles I in 1644 when he made Kirkcaldy a Royal Burgh.

It became known as Volunteers Green around 1859 as it was the place where volunteers mustered and were drilled to main the artillery battery of four canons stationed nearby.

And it was also a drying green where washing was hung out!

Six local organisations came together to fight the car park plan –Naturalists Society, United Nations Association, Kirkcaldy Council of Churches, the Saltire Society and Friends Of The Earth.

A well attended public meeting saw them send agree to send a resolution to the Town Council deploring the proposals which they said would “damage the amenity of Kirkcaldy town centre.”

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The resolution proposed that immediate action should be taken to prevent Volunteers Green being used for car parking, and to form the green instead into a small permanent park with safe pedestrian access.

A committee representing all the amenity organisations was set up to approach the council on the issue.

The public meeting was chaired by Dr Patrick Edmunds, chairman of the South Fife Group of the Conservation Society, who commented: that Kirkcaldy already had “first class parking facilities” and there was no need for any more.

An argument could even be put to the Town Council, he suggested, for deliberately limiting the influx of cars into the town centre.

This was one solution to the “growing menace” of cars in cities and towns.

Dr Edmunds said he believed the status of Volunteers Green had never been altered from that of a public drying green.

“On the legal position of the Green, apparently, the Town Council have a choice of two courses in order to get permission to use it as a car park,” he said. “They can apply to the Secretary of State under the Planning Act for permission to sell part, or all, of the common ground, or they can proceed under the old system by petition to the Court of Session which involves considerable advertisement and a public inquiry.”

Dr Edmunds suggested that the Green should be planted out with shrubs and seats placed there bearing the names of Kirkcaldy’s famous sons.

The matter rumbled on until late January when the planning committee agreed to proceed with the multi-storey car park, only for it to be referred back at the request of Provost John Kay.

That led to a one-month reprieve.

The provost said: “It is a fact, whether we like it or not, that we have tended to sacrifice pedestrians for the car as far as the Promenade is concerned.

“There are many open spaces on the Promenade which were available in the past for ball games and so on, but which are now being filled up with car parking. I am not convinced by some of the letters on Volunteers Green – they seem ludicrous to say the least.

“But I am convinced that a Promenade of this size and one which is so exposed could do with something in the nature of a walled-in garden”

There was talk of a sunken garden – similar to one on Leven Prom – but Bailie Roger Strugnell didn’t see such a place being used much.

In March the council did what it did best. It reached a compromise. It agreed the multi-story car park would go where they wanted - just off Charlotte Street - but they would only take half of Volunteers Green.