Fife Council's £100,000 budget to buy car park access rights

THE GROUP fighting plans to close Tolbooth Street car park has criticised what it calls an "irresponsible decision" by Fife Council to buy shop owners' legal rights of access to the facility.

'Save Tolbooth Street Car Park' campaigners are opposed to the Council's 15 million proposal to convert the area into a swimming pool and sports centre, saying they fear it will discourage shoppers from coming to the High Street.

Earlier this year the group raised legal objections with the Council over local businesses' right to access the car park for unloading goods.

Campaign member Yosof Ewing said at a recent meeting with Fife Council leader Peter Grant, it was revealed that the authority has set aside a budget of 100,000 to buy the legal rights of access from shop owners.

Mr Ewing said the decision was very disappointing.

"Peter Grant is basically saying that he's happy to just keep chucking money at it but, as taxpayers, that's actually our money," he said. "It's totally irresponsible to be spending this sort of money at a time when the Council's signalled that redundancies are likely within its own staff.

"Mr Grant said the money is coming from a contingency fund, but that's meant to be used for unforeseen problems that have arisen. I don't see how they could not have foreseen that they don't have legal permission to build there."

It's not known how many of the surrounding businesses hold legal access rights to the car park, but it's believed to be fewer than the nine.

Mr Ewing said he feared the Council's offer would appeal to shop owners at a time when the pinch of the recession is still a reality, but he wants assurances from the authority that the budget would not be extended past 100,000.

"I think it's going to cost a lot more than what it has made available," he said. "Effectively the Council is going to have to buy businesses out.

"The Council has admitted it hasn't carried out a retail impact assessment, and has told us it's up to us to prove that the High Street will be killed off by getting rid of the car park."

Head of the Council's leisure and cultural services, Grant Ward, said the authority is holding meetings with the owners of the Ryman Stationary and Bodycare businesses on the High Street.

"We remain in active discussion with the owners of 186-188 High Street and their local agents," he said. "These negotiations are of a commercially sensitive nature and it would be inappropriate to comment any further at this stage."

Peter Grant said local economic development was an important part of the Council's decision-making.

"Our decision on where to situate the pool is in line with our commitment to regenerate Kirkcaldy town centre.

"This significant investment is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure the future of local leisure facilities for the community."