Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes: Fife’s occasionally uneasy neighbours

Fife Free Press 1979 - row between Glenrothes and Kirkcaldy over extention to Kingdom Centre, Glenrothes
Fife Free Press 1979 - row between Glenrothes and Kirkcaldy over extention to Kingdom Centre, Glenrothes

Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes may be separated by little more than seven miles, but the two have not always got on.

The Lang Toun and the New Town have had an uneasy relationship over the decades – and 1979 was a year marked with squabbles and nippy outbursts.

Fife Free Press 1979 - row between Glenrothes and Kirkcaldy over extention to Kingdom Centre, Glenrothes

Fife Free Press 1979 - row between Glenrothes and Kirkcaldy over extention to Kingdom Centre, Glenrothes

Kirkcaldy, the traditional seat of power within the district, saw much of that position slowly ebb as Glenrothes started to grow.

They had history.

The re-organisation of local government resulted in the creation of Fife Regional Council and it located itself in the heart of Glenrothes, turning the town into the political capital of the Kingdom.

That caused much gnashing of teeth in Kirkcaldy where there were plans for a nine-storey HQ on the site of what is now Carlyle House – home of the Fife Free Press and the Procurator Fiscal among others – which went nowhere.

Fast forward to March 1979 and a new row over whether Glenrothes was good for the district.

It was started by Councillor James Brodie of the Ratepayers Party – a doughty force to be reckoned with back in the day.

Mr Brodie, who was also the figurehead of the old Fife Chamber and spoke out on many issues affecting businesses, particularly in the High Street, asked the policy and resources committee to ponder whether Glenrothes got more than its fair share of resources to the detriment of Kirkcaldy and Buckhaven.

Lighting a fuse, he admitted “anything that mentions Glenrothes generates so much heat and emotion” before turning up the temperature a few degrees!

He said Glenrothes Development Corporation (GDC) received preferential treatment and could offer rent-free packages to investors which towns such as Kirkcaldy could not match.

The response was instant.

You may also be interested in:

Deportation threat to American who made his home in Fife

Police appeal after death of cyclist

Fife twins reveal heartache behind graduation joy

Douglas Mason, a Tory councillor from Glenrothes – the man credited with inventing Margaret Thatcher’s hated Poll Tax – said Mr Brodie didn’t know what he was talking about, and pointed out everyone flocked to Kirkcaldy to shop. How times have changed ...

Councillor Robert King, a veteran of many political skirmishes, also waded in, saying Glenrothes would be “a godsend” for Fife as it would bring jobs and houses otherwise lost to Fife.

Fast forward to July and councillors were again throwing verbal lumps at each other, this time sparked by GDC’s bid to become its own planning authority.

It made the move to the Secretary of State for Scotland knowing full well there would be a reaction.

GDC was led by Sir George Sharp, a wily old Fife politician who knew how to spar when he had too.

He pointed out Glenrothes was the only new town in the UK without the power to agree to any planning applications that fell within its boundary … and that left the town in the hands of Kirkcaldy District and Fife Regional Councils when it came to making key decisions.

And, as it happened, there was one major application on his doorstep – a £2.5m expansion of the Kingdom Centre.

The gloves came off as Sir George accused KDC and the regional authority of “placing every obstacle in the path of any application that comes from within the designated area of Glenrothes”.

“That is something they have got to answer for” and he went on to accuse officers and councillors of acting out of “sheer bigotry and prejudice”.

Bob King may have been a Glenrothes councillor but he was also convenor of Kirkcaldy District Council and he too was well versed in political debate, telling Sir George he was “foolish and irresponsible” and his words would only fan the flames of conflict between the authorities.

The man from the GDC was having none of it.

“It is patently obvious there are people within Kirkcaldy District who think that their function is to look after Kirkcaldy – full stop,” he said. “They fail to recognise their total responsibility along with that of other authorities to ensure the economic future and development of the county.”

While the planning debate rumbled on, more evidence of the divide between Glenrothes and Kirkcaldy was quick to emerge.

In July, Goverment cuts saw the Lang Toun retain its development area status but it was down from 20 per cent to 15 per cent.

Leven and Methil lost out altogether, but Glenrothes? It retained its status and got a grant level of 22 per cent which meant it now had greater drawing power than its neighbours when it came to wooing investors and developers. The equally plain speaking Harry Gourlay, MP for Kirkcaldy, had the final say. “Absolutely cock-eyed” he said.

Forty years on, the Lang Toun and the New Town are even closer thanks to widespread development, but those fault lines still emerge from time to time.