‘Don’t blame the councillors’

Councillors claim it's not their fault that the plans for a visitor centre won't be going ahead.
Councillors claim it's not their fault that the plans for a visitor centre won't be going ahead.

The rush to get planning permission for a visitor centre at West Sands has been blamed for Fife Council’s decision to refuse the application.

Speaking at this week’s meeting of St Andrews Community Council, Fife Councillor Dorothea Morrison said that “everyone in the town” wanted a visitor centre, but the speed with which the application was submitted meant it had to be refused.

Councillor Morrison claimed: “The total lack of consultation gave us a very bad result. It was very disappointing that we have lost a visitor centre because of the way it was done.”

Fife Coast and Countryside Trust submitted the application against the clock – the deadline for bids for funding from the Coastal Communities Fund closed at the same time as the planning committee was due to meet.

Trust chief executive Amanda McFarlane reacted angrily to the claims, listing a series of meetings, events and an online consultation dating back to July over the proposals. She cited a meeting St Andrews Community Council and an open event at West Sands which attracted more than 130 people. Meetings also took place, she said, with the R&A, the Links Trust, Visit Scotland and the St Andrew Partnership, St Andrews BID and councillors.

She said: “During this whole process everyone was made aware of the fact that the deadline for the funding was September which meant we had to move very quickly in order to secure all the necessary approvals which the funder required.

“Given the time constraints set by the funder, I am unable to see how we could have carried out more consultation and I am very disappointed that this is now being cited as the reason for the project not happening.”

Mrs McFarlane added that the Trust had been seeking £1.3 million in funding from the last round of Coastal Communities Funding and there would be no future opportunity to bid for the cash. The Trust has now abandoned its plans for a West Sands visitor centre.

However, the circumstances of the north east Fife planning committee process were also criticised by councillors.

Three of St Andrews’ four councillors were excluded from taking part in the debate because of their membership of bodies that had objected to the planning application.

The fourth St Andrews councillor, Frances Melville, chairs the committee and she moved refusal of the application, then used her casting vote to decide the issue.

Speaking at the community council meeting, Cllr Melville said: “As chairman of the committee I don’t like to move or second – that is not the chairman’s job – but I have become extremely uncomfortable seeing my members having to declare an interest and leave.

“On this occasion I just could not sit back and not do anything.”

Cllr Melville added that she had given up her appointments to other bodies in order to allow her to chair planning committee meetings.

She added: “I know there is general dissatisfaction across the whole country from the communities who feel they are not being properly represented.”

Cllr Morrison added: “We really need to look at the whole process.

“It’s down to the code we work with and an approach has to be made to the Commissioner on Standards in Public Life and ask if they can have another look at that one.”