Campaigners fighting to see the restoration of one of Fife’s most historic buildings have accused a housing developer of “playing the planning system for its own financial gain”.
Muir Homes want to see the removal of a clause restricting them from selling the final five houses until such time that Leslie House is restored.
Their application to build 28 houses was emphatically thrown out in 2015 after councillors ruled that an enabling development clause in an earlier planning application for 12 dwellings, granted approval in 2008, had been exclued in the new application.
The enabling clause allowed for the restoration of the grade-A listed former home to the Earl and Countess of Rothes from the sales of the newly-built homes.
However, Muir Homes successfully appealed the decision to the Scottish Government in May, 2016 and were given the green-light to press ahead with construction of the houses.
Crucially however, within the Scottish Government appointed Reporter’s decision to uphold the appeal in favour of the developer, he included in his final ruling that a clause stipulating that the final five newly-built homes could not be occupied until such time that the restoration of Leslie House, in accordance with the original 2008 planning permission, had been met.
“With the non-occupancy ruling regarding the last five houses, it’s obviously not financially viable for the developer and this is nothing more than a back door attempt at getting that clause scrapped,” said Richard Graves, who has campaigned for the restoration of Leslie House since it was badly damaged by fire in February 2009.
He said: “I have a certain amount of sympathy for Muir Homes who argue that funds were transferred to Sundial Properties back in 2008 and in short, Sundial Homes should return that to Muir’s .
“But to simply try and remove this clause, which the Reporter recognised and highlighted in his final appeal ruling, is unacceptable.
“Any contractrual dispute between Leslie House owners Sundial Properties and Muir Homes, needs to be sorted out between the two companies.
“That might actually allow a new developer to come in with a viable plan to not only comercially develop the land, but also have a way of supporting a restoration project.”
Mr Graves told the Gazette that Fife Council have assured him that a decision on this new amendment will have to go before the full planning committee.
In a 12-page document supporting, Muir Homes say the non-occupancy restriction potentially undermines, for financial and practical reasons, the development of the residential site”.
Furthermore Muir Homes claims the inclusion of the clause fails the fundamental requirements set out by the Scottish Government, adding that it is unnecessary, not relevant and failing to be reasonable in all other aspects.
Building is yet to begin on any of the 28 approved homes and its expected that the planning amendment will come before the planning committee before the end of the year.