Campaigners’ fury as council approves access road to new Fife learning campus

A controversial access road connecting the south of the future Dunfermline Learning Campus to a main road has been unanimously approved, to the fury of local campaigners.

Thursday, 8th July 2021, 2:09 pm

Councillors on the central and west Fife planning committee waved through Shepherd Offshore's plans for the connection to Sandpiper Drive without any discussion or debate on Wednesday on the grounds that it aligned with the already approved masterplan - known formally as a planning permission in principle - for the site.

Fife Council received over 100 objections to the application, which had already been withdrawn and rejigged in response to community feedback. The avenue will be limited to 20 or 30mph, and feature traffic calming measures to discourage excessive speed.

While councillors were content to agree with planners' recommendations to approve the road, campaigners concerned about the welfare of wildlife in and around the Calais Muir woods to the south feel an opportunity for debate has been squandered.

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Campaigners protesting to save the woods at the site of the proposed new learning campus

Martin Willcocks, of the Save The Calais Woods Wildlife group, said he was "deeply disappointed" at the decision and the lack of debate.

"This just shows how much the system is broken and how unfair and uneven it is," he said.

"The main point seems to be that [planning permission in principle] has been approved so we can't really stop this road."

Planning applications cannot be refused simply because there is opposition to it going ahead. Local authorities have been reprimanded in the past for "unreasonably" refusing proposals without due reference to planning laws.

The site of the proposed new learning campus in Dunfermline

In addition, councillors cannot be seen to represent or lobby for any particular cause prior to an application being decided. If they do, or have any other relevant interest, they cannot take part in the discussions.

However, Mr Willcocks, who says he does not oppose the learning campus project in principle, feels "alienated" because of the council's perceived ignorance of the community's concerns.

He added: "We'll just have to keep the community aware of what's going on and how things get decided."

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The concerns of local activists were addressed in a report presented to councillors at the meeting on Wednesday afternoon by Jamie Penman, a Fife Council planning officer, who ultimately recommended that the plans for the former Hyundai/Freescale site be approved.

He noted that the plan included a buffer of hedging and tree planting between the road and the woods to the south to balance out the removal of trees that has already taken place - a move that has already angered locals.

Seven conditions were attached to the approval to protect trees, avoid disturbing locals and to guarantee adequate visibility splays onto Sandpiper Drive and other nearby roads.

"Whilst it is acknowledged that the proposed road would cut through the identified green network, it is considered that the principle of the road in this location has already been accepted through the [planning permission in principle] approval," he wrote.

He was also satisfied with the suggestion that the roads would have low speed limits of 20-30mph, traffic calming measures and foot and cycle paths.

The Dunfermline Learning Campus project will see a new Fife College campus built alongside replacements for Woodmill High and St Columba’s High School.

The wider development's masterplan boasts a nursery, a 90-bed care home, assisted living apartments, pub/restaurant, coffee drive-thru, petrol station and 225 homes.

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