Burntisland Docks: Call for Scottish ministers to review controversial fence plans

The Scottish Greens have backed demands for Scottish ministers to review plans for fences which will cut off public access to Burntisland Harbour.

Monday, 4th October 2021, 5:52 pm
Updated Tuesday, 5th October 2021, 10:02 am

The move comes after an application for listed building consent for fencing and gates at Burntisland Harbour was approved by councillors at a meeting of the Central and West Fife Planning Committee last Wednesday.

Campaigners say the move will exclude the public access to large parts of the harbour, which have been enjoyed for centuries.

Planners recommended consent be given to the applicant Forth Ports Limited, which operates Burntisland Harbour.

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Forth Ports have reassured the local community that it has no intention to close off the whole of the Port of Burntisland.

Case officer, Kevin Treadwell, advised councillors the fencing and gates were ”justified as being required on health and safety grounds as well to make the site safe and secure”.

However, the proposals had a lot of opposition from many locals with the council receiving 262 public objections.

A petition, attracting more than 3000 signatures, was also set up by members of the Burntisland Harbour Access Trust (BHAT) calling for the plans to be scrapped.

The Scottish Greens believe denying public access to the harbour would be a ‘real blow for Burntisland’ and now Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Mark Ruskell has written to Scottish planning minister Tom Arthur, urging him to call in the application for review.

Local councillor Lesley Backhouse has supported the campaign against fencing off the harbour from the outset.

Mr Ruskell said: “Burntisland Harbour is an integral part of the town and holds a special place in the heart of residents. Denying them access would be a great loss to the community and a real blow for Burntisland.

“Fife Council has clearly underestimated the heritage value of the docs and the depth of feeling in the community.

“That’s why I’ve written to the Planning Minister, urging him to listen to local residents and urgently call in these plans for review.”

A spokesman for Burntisland Harbour Access Trust, said: “For such a visually sensitive subject a ground level site visit made more sense, a suggestion we had requested/recommended on several occasions. When that was proposed during the meeting the convenor said she couldn't see the point.

Alex MacDonald, chairman, Royal Burgh of Burntisland Community Council, said the decision has revealed huge flaws in the planning system.

“The advice given to the committee was fundamentally flawed.

"Character and setting is a clear material consideration in regard to Listed Building Consent and there are many factors affecting this including, in accordance with the guidance given, public access.

“The misleadingly narrow focus suggested as being that required is simply wrong and is not reflected in the legislation or its interpretation.

"Had the lawyer considered recent and directly comparable precedent - for example, the dismissal of Forth Ports’ appeal against Edinburgh Council’s decision to decline consent for a far less intrusive fence at Leith Docks - this would be readily apparent.”

The port at Burntisland

He added: “We prepared a cast iron case, backed by independent experts, for the application to be rejected but it was ignored.

The Burntisland community of 6000-plus has been treated with contempt by a handful of people who have absolutely no interest in, or understanding of, the town.”

Alex MacDonald, chairman, Royal Burgh of Burntisland Community Council, said the decision has revealed huge flaws in the planning system.

He said: “Too many people accepted what they were told at face value and simply did not check the facts.

“Forth Ports made ridiculous claims about health and safety which were not supported by any accredited evidence. We’re a seaside town. We know about water and how to respect it. We don’t need fences to protect us from ourselves.

“Similarly, they grossly exaggerated the workload of the port. They claimed an increase in traffic when in fact the tonnage is now 20 per cent of what it was 20 years ago. Was that verified by Fife Council? No, it wasn’t.

“Those are fundamental factors in determining any statutory rights that Forth Ports might have.

“Our solitary local representative on the planning committee correctly reflected local views, but he was outnumbered. What are the elected members for if not to oversee and challenge the work of the officials?

He added: “It’s an exceptionally poor show.”

Local councillor Lesley Backhouse has supported the campaign against fencing off the harbour from the outset. She tuned in to last week’s meeting to hear the item being discussed and was disappointed that a motion put forward for a site visit was not taken forward.

She said: “I do not think the drone footage really showed the extent of the site.

"Having an extensive metal fence will have a significant impact on those who live and work there. There are a number of creatives based at the train station's workshops who use the harbour and its views as inspirations for their works. Many residents use the area as a walking circuit.

“I did meet with the Forth Ports manager when the plans were first mooted. The level of shipping coming in and out of Burntisland is low and if we look at other working harbours around Fife, Kirkcaldy and even Methil there isn't such intrusive fencing.

“The stopping of pedestrian access to the breakwater is very short-sighted.”

Fellow ward councillor Kathleen Leslie said: "I find it astounding the committee members did not visit the harbour to actually get a feel for what is about to be closed off.

"The harbour has been a focal point in Burntisland for decades. It seems that despite a petition and hundreds of objections local people were simply ignored. I will support the Harbour Access Trust if there is anything that can be done to have this decision reconsidered."

A spokesperson for Forth Ports, owner of Burntisland Harbour, said: “We welcome Fife Council’s approval of our application for Listed Buildings Consent to erect safety fencing at Burntisland Harbour, designed to meet our legal responsibility to ensure the safety of everyone using the harbour.

“We can reassure the local community that we have no intention to close off the whole of the Port of Burntisland. Our plans will still enable the people of Burntisland to walk through the port, but safely and avoiding areas of higher risk.”

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