Mixed reaction to West Sands visitor centre plans

Artists impression of Fife Coast and Countryside Trust's proposed visitor centre for West Sands, St Andrews.
Artists impression of Fife Coast and Countryside Trust's proposed visitor centre for West Sands, St Andrews.

Ambitious plans for a visitor centre at West Sands in St Andrews have received a mixed response, with Fife Council services appearing to come out against the proposal.

Other comments about the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust’s (FCCT) planning application offer support in principle for the proposal, but many are qualified by objections to elements of the development.

Fife Council has emphasised that comments on the application from various departments within the Council are not treated in isolation, but a critical submission has been made by the built heritage section of the Council’s enterprise, planning and protective services.

“Replacement of the existing structures with ones of similar scale and mass which merge into the natural landscape and have no visual impact from a distance would be preferable,” the submission states, continuing: “Opportunities would still exist to produce buildings of high quality which could be appreciated close up and in the detailing.”

The report acknowledges that existing buildings - a cafe, toilet block and beach patrol hut - are of poor architectural quality and that there is “considerable scope” for improving the quality of the buildings and surrounding areas.

Robin Presswood, head of enterprise planning and protective services, said: “It’s important to remember no final decision has been taken on this application and that individual consultation responses like this one aren’t considered in isolation. The Council, in its role as planning authority, gives a balanced view when planners have considered them all.”

St Andrews Community Council welcomed the planned visitor centre, but has objected to the proposed wind turbines, exterior lighting and parking arrangements or, as the council claims: “lack of parking arrangements” expressing fears, reiterated at this week’s community council meeting, that there is insufficient provision in the plan.

The community council has also, along with other objectors, raised concerns about the height of the building and the proposed stainless steel finish.

The proposed five, 15-metre tall vertical axis wind turbines have exercised other objectors: “The very idea of even one wind turbine on the West Sands is extremely dangerous,” commented Mrs Sheila Walker of golf shop Tom Morris. She believed it was the thin end of the wedge and that “the whole area, including the sea, could become covered with turbines.”

FCCT chief executive Amanda McFarlane admitted the trust was disappointed with the comments from within Fife Council but, she stressed: “We believe that the considerable strengths of our development will result in an acceptance that it will enhance and improve the overall appearance and the visitor experience of the area.

“Fife Coast and Countryside Trust understand that any development has an impact on the environment and that it is important to justify any building activity by the benefit it will bring to a wide community of interest.

“We welcome comments from all perspectives, and our team will continue to review comments and suggestions for practical opportunities to improve the project.”

The visitor centre plans are due to be decided at the October meeting of the north-east Fife planning committee.