Perth builder gets go-ahead for 34 affordable homes in north-east Fife development
New affordable homes have been approved for Newburgh after Fife Council officers made the case for bending their own rules on housing.
Perth housebuilder A&J Stephen submitted plans to Fife Council at the start of the year for 34 affordable homes north of Cupar Road along with a long term blueprint for an area of land immediately to the south.
Planning officers recommended the proposals for approval - but some councillors were concerned that they were bending the rules excessively to make up for a shortage of social housing.
Fife Council's own policies say affordable homes should be distributed throughout a development, rather than clustered together by themselves. Houses should also have a minimum of 100 square metres of garden space.
However, the Newburgh dwellings will be built in a single area, and the majority of them will have gardens 30% smaller than the recommended minimum.
Cllr Tony Miklinski, Conservative Cupar member, sought to have the plans refused. Objections also came from a number of locals and Newburgh Community Council.
He said: "There are a number of issues where the policy is being squeezed: affordable housing upfront instead of being indistinguishable and the garden grounds.
"These are being used to lever this through as we need the housing. Our policies say one thing but housing officers are saying another.
"We're asked as councillors to make decisions based on Fife policy, and building affordable housing like this in this area does not meet that."
Planning officer Bryan Reid said the deviation could be justified because there is a shortage of social housing in the north east of Fife.
The latest iteration of Fife's housing plan suggests the area will need an extra 80 affordable homes over the next five years – and the 34 Newburgh residences would go some way to meeting that demand.
Mr Reid said: "The planning authority is supportive of the proposed development, with the material benefits outweighing the shortfall in the design and layout of the development.
"The garden space doesn't meet requirements, but it's still usable."
Some members of the North East Fife planning committee were also uneasy about approving both a specific housing plan and a wider area masterplan at once.
The "development framework" prescribes expansions to Newburgh primary school, the Lindores Distillery and the local cemetery - but its inclusion in discussions was criticised for being ambiguous, as councillors weren't sure whether it was also being signed off.
East Neuk Lib Dem councillor Bill Porteous, who seconded Cllr Miklinski's motion to refuse the plans, said: “I'm uncomfortable placing 34 affordable homes in one location [and] that somehow if we were to approve this we appear to be approving a development framework as well.
"This all seems a bit 'cart before the horse'."
Tay Bridgehead Lib Dem Tim Brett moved approval because of the need for extra affordable housing in the area, seconded by St Andrews Labour councillor Brian Thomson.
"We need affordable housing and I don't think we should turn down that opportunity," Cllr Brett said.
Cllr Thomson added: "”We've got a massive housing crisis in Scotland and Fife. This is a fantastic opportunity.
"The need for affordable housing overrides any issue with garden grounds. “
The plans were approved by nine votes to five.