Fife councillors split over five-star estate plans which include private airstrip

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Fife councillors were split down the middle over a proposed five star luxury estate expansion near Largoward.

Hawkswood Country Estate secured “planning permission in principle” for a major expansion only after a lengthy debate on Wednesday.

The “in principle” proposals would add six tree house style holiday homes, golf greens, bunkers, a wedding venue and chapel, a play barn, indoor swimming pools and a hotly contested private airstrip to the existing estate.

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Hawkswood has been operating since 2007 and currently comprises three large holiday houses which can accommodate 30 guests. The estate also has its own golf driving range. Fife Council has already granted planning permission for an additional four holiday homes, a restaurant and bistro which will be open to the public, and a helicopter landing facility. The latest proposals would expand its visitor capacity and improve its on-site facilities.

The plans for the estate were approved in a split vote (Pic: Submitted)The plans for the estate were approved in a split vote (Pic: Submitted)
The plans for the estate were approved in a split vote (Pic: Submitted)

“One of the primary purposes of the proposal is to offer guests facilities within Hawkswood Country Estate itself, so that they have a greater opportunity to holiday more within the estate rather than undertaking daily travel elsewhere,” planning papers state.

Councillors argued with Fife Council planning officers for more than an hour on Wednesday over whether or not to approve the massive development.

In order to approve the “in principle” application, councillors dismissed more than 60 objections from community members - a large number compared to just eight letters of support. The objections raised concerns about noise impact from the proposed wedding venue and private airstrip; privacy concerns; construction disturbance; traffic disturbance; and more.

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“I don’t think I’ve ever seen an application with more than 10-15 objections and this one has several dozen,” Councillor Robin Lawson (Conservative for St Andrews) said. “As a councillor, I feel responsible to my constituents. I feel the level of objection raised by this seems extraordinary.”

However, a legal representative for the council warned that it is not the amount of objections that should be considered but rather the quality content. Put simply, the concerns raised by the community for this application were largely considered “non material.”

“In other words not all of the issues that people raised are material matters that we should consider. We may not like it but that is the case,” committee convener Jonny Tepp (Lib-Dem) said.

For those who objected, the private airstrip seemed to be a sticking point.

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“It doesn’t sit right with me that we’re talking about a climate emergency on one hand and approving a runway on the other,” Councillor Al Clark (Lib-Dem for St Andrews) said.

However, over the course of extensive discussion, councillors were told that the landower could currently use his property as a private airstrip up to 28 days per year without planning permission or council approval.

By granting the developer planning permission for the airstrip, they will be able to restrict its hours of operation and dictate that it must be used exclusively for estate guests. Case officers from the local planning authority recommended that councillors approve the development. However, the decision was ultimately put to a vote where the committee was divided in two. As committee convener, Cllr Tepp cast the deciding vote to approve planning permission in principle.

Hawkswood will be required to return with more detailed plans, site investigations and information in the future to secure full planning permission, but securing permission in principle was a big step forward for the development.