Councillors vote to pull down the pergola that wasn’t

The 'pergola' dominated Mr Turner's garden
The 'pergola' dominated Mr Turner's garden

A St Andrews man whose life was blighted for three years by a massive covered beer garden masquerading as a ‘pergola’ has spoken of his relief after councillors voted to pull it down.

Members of the area and planning committees for North East Fife voted by 10 votes to five on Wednesday to issue a discontinuance order to the owners of the West Port Bar & Restaurant in South Street after hearing that the structure had not been built to the original planning permission specifications.

They also had before them a copy of a report by the Ombudsman in which Fife Council planners were criticised for their handling of the case.

The decision means that the original planning permission – which was granted through delegated powers and without taking cognisance of an objection by St Andrews Preservation Trust – has been withdrawn, so the structure will now have to be removed.

However, the owners are likely to claim compensation for loss of business.

Depending on the sum involved, the matter could still be referred to the Executive Committee which could overturn the decision and opt instead for the ‘pergola’ to be modified.

Planning officials had recommended that councillors vote instead for an enforcement notice, which would have meant the owners would simply have had to reduce the height of the structure by 75cm on one side and 20 cm on the other.

In his report, the Ombudsman criticised local authority planners for failing to change the applicant’s use of the word ‘pergola’ to describe the structure when planning permission was sought in 2012.

Instead of an arched frame covered in roses, what appeared was a 54-foot long beer garden with a retracting roof that towered above the garden of the B-listed house next door, occupied by David Turner and his family.

It overshadowed the bedroom occupied by his mother, who has since died.

It was to be the start of a long battle waged by Mr Turner against Fife Council planners that may or may not be over, depending on the compensation claim.

In the meantime, however, Mr Turner has expressed his relief at the outcome of Wednesday’s meeting.

“It’s brought to an end three years of grief, at least for the time being” he told the Citizen. “We’ve had three years of turmoil and I sincerely hope that Fife Council has learned from it.

“The whole process has revealed a worrying lack of staff training.”

During Wednesday’s discussion, which lasted almost three hours, senior planning manager Pam Ewen said that as a result of the Ombudsman’s report, planning processes had been tightened up and an official apology issued to Mr Turner.

“I personally will ensure that officers learn from this and the service doesn’t repeat what happened,” she said.

Ms Ewen said she was not in post when the application was first lodged but, if she had been, she would have recommended approval, assuming the ‘pergola’ had been designed and built correctly.

She said that by making the recommended modification the ‘pergola’ would no longer overshadow Mr Turner’s garden and the fact that the licensing committee recently restricted the pub’s opening hours meant that noise and light issues would be mitigated.

Councillor Bryan Poole backed the officials’ recommendation that the structure be modified in height and he was seconded by Councillor Tim Brett.

Councillor Dorothea Morrison put forward the successful motion to scrap the planning permission and was seconded by Councillor Maggie Taylor on the basis of the structure’s impact on Mr Turner’s 300-year-old house at 166-168 South Street, the impact on a C-listed building – formerly the Brittania Hotel – to the rear of the structure, and the fact that it was in a conservation area.