Council approves new decision making board

Cllr Alex Rowley
Cllr Alex Rowley

PLANNING applications in the Kirkcaldy area will be determined by a newly-established committee covering central Fife after changes to the set-up were narrowly voted through by the Council.

It will take over the decision-making process from the Kirkcaldy area committee, and will also consider applications previously determined by area committees in Glenrothes and Levenmouth.

But the changes were only passed following a heated debate at Fife Council last Thursday.

Council leader Alex Rowley said he didn’t believe this was an issue of major concern for the majority of Fife residents, but businesses would welcome the new set-up.

However, SNP and Tory councillors claimed the changes would remove local accountability and add another layer of bureaucracy at a time when the Council should be saving money.

The changes were also opposed by 34 community councils, including Kirkcaldy West and Aberdour.

Cllr Rowley said business leaders had told him that the system of having eight planning committees – the seven area committees and a planning committee for major applications – was not the best way to do business.

He added: “I believe this achieves what businesses are asking for — more knowledgeable and skilled councillors in a reduced committee structure, and more specialised and simplified processes to assist businesses in understanding decision-making arrangements and providing clarity.”

However, Councillor John Beare, the SNP planning spokesman, described the changes as “a deeply disturbing centralising move by the Labour administration and flies in the face of their promises to devolve more powers to the area committees”.

He is also concerned that not all councillors will be involved in the decision-making process, which means those not involved can speak out publicly for or against an application, while those on the committee are not permitted to do so.

Cllr Beare said: “This move will remove local knowledge and expertise, set ward member against ward member and make the Council more remote from our communities.”

Councillor Dave Dempsey, Fife Council Conservative group leader raised similar concerns, adding: “Under the new scheme, councillors who aren’t on a planning committee can take up a cause, write to the 
press, speak at public meetings, etc.

“However, they can’t ‘lobby’ the councillors on the planning committee. So an email saying ‘turn it down’ is taboo. Turning to the planning councillor in a community council meeting and saying ‘It should be turned down, don’t you think?’ is presumably also taboo but what 
about addressing the same question to the chairman of the community council?

“Is that lobbying? I don’t know and when I asked during the debate what 
the boundaries of lobbying are, the officials present couldn’t say.”