Councillors approve plans for more than 80 new homes in Fife village
Councillors have green-lit plans for scores of new homes in a Fife village - while also lambasting the "loopholes" that ruled out including affordable dwellings.
AEL Developments Ltd – which trades as Easy Living – can now proceed with its plans for "Castle Gait" on the western edge of East Wemyss.
However, the firm is exempt from providing the affordable homes or financial contribution to local amenities usually associated with modern developments - because it relies on a masterplan that is nearly 30 years old, predating the policies that made them essentially mandatory.
A blueprint for development in East Wemyss was approved in 1995 and double-stamped with a more detailed plan in 2003.
Planning permission was then secured indefinitely with the completion of an access into the area. Early requirements to build a golf course and industrial units were later dropped.
William Shand, the Fife Council planning officer tasked with analysing the application, confirmed this was the case at a planning committee meeting on Thursday.
"Development was considered to occur within the masterplan area on the basis of some works being carried out," he said.
"We are not asking for any futher planning contributions."
NHS Fife is concerned that the size of the development - 86 new homes in a village of less than 2,000 people, according to the most recent census data - may put pressure on local GP surgeries. However, the health board is powerless to ask for cash to bolster capacity.
Deliberations on Easy Living's proposals were postponed from May while planners scurried to find the missing masterplan.
Councillors had wanted to be sure the exemption from contributions was watertight - and said they were "disappointed" this had turned out to be the case.
Glenrothes North, Leslie and Markinch SNP councillor John Beare said: "We find ourselves in the position that a plan approved 30-odd years ago has been amended and secured because a wall was breached in 2009.
"This has been unpicked over time, and what I find crazy is we're expected to agree this application against certain policies but we can't because of an extant permission that is almost 30-odd years old.
"I will appreciate that it can be a truly frustrating process on occasion because the council dearly wishes to supply affordable housing, but because of a permission approved 30-odd years ago we can't.
"I'm truly disappointed that a series of loopholes have allowed applicants to avoid the aims of the council - but I cannot find a defendable reason for us to insist on them."
West Fife and coastal villages Labour councillor Bobby Clelland was "baffled" by the use of a decades-old masterplan to, willingly or not, circumvent Fife's modern planning rules.
"This is a totally different application in my mind and should be treated that way," he said.
"We can't put developer contributions in this area - does that mean forever?”
Mr Shand said that the exemption remains while the masterplan remains active, unless Fife Council opts to revoke the permit keeping it in place.
Such a move may involve approval from Scottish ministers and the payment of compensation to the holders of existing permissions - measures that the authority, he said, is unlikely to make.
Councillors agreed the plans with 23 conditions attached to ensure the project is carried out responsibly.