Fury as St Andrews residents’ concerns are ‘being ignored’

St Andrews from the air.
St Andrews from the air.

a document which will form a blueprint for future developments in St Andrews over the next decade has provoked a furious reaction

It comes amid claims that local concerns have been totally ignored, coupled with demands for the Scottish Government to reform the country’s planning system.

In a hard-hitting and angry response, members of the town’s community council have branded as “outrageous” the St Andrews and East Fife Local Plan examination report published by three Scottish Government reporters appointed by Scottish Ministers.

In calling for changes to the planning system in Scotland, the community organisation believes that the current process is too focused on a few unelected officials, and does not take into account the views of the local community.

After considering the outcome of the examination of the Local Plan, the community council said it is “deeply disturbed” by the lack of democratic influence and control within the current planning process.

Council chairman Kyffin Roberts told the Citizen: ”Over the last seven years, St Andrews has been through a complete cycle of the development plan process, both Structure Plan and Local Plan, in which the community council believes that the consultation carried out in the town has been a charade.

“Over that period we have seen an absolute determination on the part of the unelected officials not to give an inch on their plans for the western development of St Andrews, even though it has been clear throughout that those plans ran contrary to the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people of the town.

“In these circumstances, the ordinary citizen has been left virtually powerless. It was notable that a change of political administration in Fife in 2007 had scarcely any impact at all on a planning process where the real power lay in the hands of the unelected officials.

“In the past we had been able to look to central government level for a more objective overview. This time, in approving the Structure Plan, the Scottish Government did not even feel under any obligation to lodge the customary supporting calculations to justify its conclusions on the required amount of housing land.”

Now, Mr Roberts pointed out, the sole remaining obstacle to the implementation of overwhelming development in St Andrews is the legal challenge of local resident Penny Uprichard, who is a member of the community council. Having been rejected in the Scottish courts, her case will be heard before five judges in the UK Supreme Court on March 5 and 6 of next year.

In issuing its call to action by the Scottish Government, Mr Roberts said the community council was expressing “the deeply felt anger and frustration of the town” at the manner in which residents’ views have been brushed aside.

He continued:”Even before the recession, the plans for the western development looked to be of marginal economic viability, and officials must have known from the outset that they had no intention of curtailing them in response to public demand.

“Many townspeople have expressed their concern that officials appear to have manipulated the whole policy agenda for the town to secure their goal of the western development, the refurbishment of Madras College at Kilrymont, and the approval of other major projects around the town.” The community organisation maintains the Local Plan for St Andrews and North East Fife “contains very few crumbs of comfort” for the future.

The decision of the reporters to draw the inner boundary of the now approved green belt for St Andrews tightly around existing and agreed development on the southern hillside has been welcomed.

However, the community council - in addition to calling for action from the Scottish Government - is also recommending citizens continue to be vigilant within this area as the current green belt designation does not bar development as absolutely as was once the case.

Mr Roberts added :”The community council planning committee find it hard to believe that the management of Fife Council’s enterprise, planning and protective services department wish to see continued public engagement with the planning process when the views expressed in North East Fife have been treated with such contempt.

“We are indeed witnessing the gradual dismantling of the planning system as we have traditionally understood it. Many householder applications will no longer require planning consent and whether that will be a recipe for harmony between neighbours remains to be seen.

“Future local development plans cover ever wider areas and pay less attention to required local variations. Additionally, housing numbers in plans are no longer designed to restrict development. Plans are aimed to promote development rather than to provide a coherent framework. The word ‘local’ will have lost most of its meaning when the Local Plan covers the whole of Fife.

“For these reasons, St Andrews Community Council demands urgent action of the Scottish Government to reinstate ‘democracy’ into future planning processes, and mandate that all future planning decisions include the wishes of the local communities that they affect.”