Planning committees are not usually the most exciting of gatherings to sit in on, it must be said.
The recipe of complex regulations, technical jargon and dry discussion doesn’t make for smiling faces and delighted onlookers.
But Wednesday’s meeting of the central area planning committee at Fife House was different.
Different because a decision made by councillors effectively saves the historic Leslie House, the grade-A listed former home of the Earl of Rothes, from being left to rot away.
Planning officers had advised that a hugely controversial proposal of 28 houses, to be built in the grounds of the once-stately home, be given the go ahead.
Controversial because, crucially, an enabling development clause – directing profits to be used to restore the house – was to be left out of the approval.
Those opposed to the Muir Homes application certainly feared the worst, despite what they say were significant flaws in the plans. But worry soon turned to delight after councillors emphatically threw out the application.
“Thankfully, common sense has prevailed here today,” said Robert Graves, whose Dukes Lodge home sits within the Leslie House grounds.
“Granting approval would have been the kiss of death for Leslie House and this decision is hugely significant and a sets a precedent going forward.
“It’s been made clear beyond any doubt that an enabling development condition is crucial if we are ever to see Leslie House restored to anything like its former self.”
Councillors had queued up to lambast the plans, with the SNP’s Marie Penman saying this latest proposal went against all that had been previously agreed.
“This has no benefit to Leslie House. With no enabling development, the profits from the building of these homes stay with the developer. It doesn’t fit and doesn’t work,” she said.
Kay Morrison, whose ward Leslie House is in, said there were no positive effects from any aspect of the application and an original proposal to build 12 dwellings had only been granted previously because it aided the restoration plan of its owner – Sundial Properties – to use the House to build residential appartments.
“So many things with this application are wrong,” said Councillor John Wincott.
“Access provision is totally inappropriate, while the affordable housing obligation is also erroneous.”
A motion to refuse the application on various grounds, tabled by Glenrothes councillor John Beare, was unanimously supported by the committee.
While Leslie House remains a ruin and much work is still to be done if the right proposal is to be found to save it in some form, an important precedent has been set with Fife Council, in recognising its duty to do all within its jurisdiction to facilitate the restoration of one of the most historic buildings in Fife.
Interestingly, developer Strathyre Properties has expressed an interest in Leslie House but requires the enabling development clause in order to take it further.
Current owner Sundial Properties says it has, to date, not been approached by Strathyre and reiterated it remains committed to its long-term plans.
Titanic links are a promoter’s dream
Leslie House’s strong ties to the Countess of Rothes and the Titanic disaster could offer a boost in tourism to the area, if a way of restoring the former stately home can be found.
That’s the view of Linda Ballingall, chairman of the trustees of Glenrothes and Area Heritage Centre.
Linda and her team staged a highly successful Titanic exhibition in 2012 to tie in with the centenary of the sinking, which drew visitors from across the world.
“The Titanic links are potentially a huge selling point with lots of potential,” said Linda.
She added: “Leslie House, regardless of its’ ‘ruin’ condition, is a listed building with Historic Scotland and is an important part of the Heritage of Fife.
“It was the ancestral home of the Duke and Earls of Rothes and, in its day, was The Palace of Leslie, on a par in size and importance with Hollyrood Palace in Edinburgh.
It should be made safe and could be used as a visitor attraction.
“And the link to the Countess of Rothes and the Titanic disaster would certainly put this area on the Visit Scotland map, and the importance of that should not be overlooked, by the soon-to-be-formed Go Glenrothes promotional committee.
“I appreciate the complex planning history that has already gone before it but I stand by the view that there is an exciting opportunity just waiting to be unlocked here.”
Councillor Fiona Grant, chairman of Glenrothes area committee, said she wholeheartedly supported the planning committee’s decision.
She added: “I believe Fife Council, the owners and Historic Scotland could and should all do much more to progress the renovation of this Grade A listed building.
“I’m asking Fife Council to organise an urgent meeting with all involved so that a way forward can be discussed.”
Future remains uncertain for one of region’s most historic homes
Leslie House gained Grade A listed status in 1972 and is widely regarded as one of the most significant historic buildings in the region.
Earliest evidence of a house on this site is 1667-72 for John, 7th Earl and only Duke of Rothes, said to have been similar to Holyrood Palace.
Destroyed by fire on December 28, 1763, the present much smaller house was built, supposedly as a restoration of the least damaged aspect for the 11th Earl.
In 1919, the house was acquired by Sir Robert Spencer Nairn who, as he saw the advancing development of Glenrothes, gave it to the Church of Scotland in 1952 for use as an Eventide Home.
Sundial Properties acquired the property from the Church of Scotland in 2009 with the plan to turn the building into 17 luxury flats. A fire in February 2009 gutted the property, leaving it in the condition it remains in today.