Could Burntisland gap site saga soon be over?

The tree on the conservation area site before it was taken down
The tree on the conservation area site before it was taken down

The saga over controversial plans to build on conservation land at the entrance to Burntisland could be nearing an end.

An appeal against the failure of Fife Council to give a decision on a planning application for the site on the town’s Kinghorn Road within the prescribed time has led to a Scottish GovernmentReporter to uphold the appeal, subject to conditions.

And work to build a four-bedroomed Victorian villa and two three-bedroomed apartments could be set to begin on the site “early next month” according to Bob Wilkie, the previous owner of the land.

The application by Mrs S McCann sought full planning consent for two flats with vehicle access and parking.

And the Reporter noted that the plans did not contravene conservation planning regulations and would in fact, enhance the gap site.

He also said that because an ancient sycamore tree – which was behind much of the argument around whether the site should be developed – was no longer there, having been damaged by Mr Wilkie who was fined £400 in court, it could not be taken into account.

Following the decision, Mr Wilkie told the Press: “It has taken a while for justice and common sense to prevail. When local councillors ignore advice from their professional planners, when a council protects a tree in direct conflict to its own policies, while said tree was proven to be damaging the neighbouring property; questions must be asked.”

The granting of the appeal has angered many in the town who objected to the plans.

Alex MacDonald, chairman of Burntisland Community Council, said: “The core of the problem was always the condition of the site, the relationship with neighbours and the vandalism of a mature tree. By the time of the last appeal, the site had been cleaned up and the tree had gone.

“Fife Council was remiss in taking too long to reach a decision, though the applicant would almost certainly have appealed.

‘‘The Reporter was remiss in not taking into account either the track record of events at the site or the importance of its original appearance. The applicant’s representative was remiss in causing wilful damage to a protected tree and failing to comply with a reinstatement order.

“The only saving grace is that Fife Council now has the power to approve a scheme of landscaping before any development starts. This may give some comfort to those who have struggled for years to maintain the character of this important conservation area.”

Pam Ewen, planning manager, said: “It is a matter for the planning and environmental appeals division of the Scottish Government to respond to.”

Two previous planning applications in 2010 and 2014 were dismissed because they would harm the 100-year-old tree. In 2012 Fife Council issued a Tree Preservation Order, but the tree was damaged and killed in 2014 and had to be removed. In 2015 Mr Wilkie was fined £400 at Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court after admitting using a chainsaw to cut two rings in the tree’s bark, depriving it of sap and killing it.