St Andrews community split over Madras site

An artist's impression of what a new Madras College could look like at the Pipeland Farm site
An artist's impression of what a new Madras College could look like at the Pipeland Farm site

AS consultation continues over Fife Council’s plans for a new £40 million secondary school in St Andrews, a war of words has erupted between two groups who want to see it developed at opposite ends of the town.

Campaigners for the single-site school to be built on the western approaches to the town - at what is known locally as the ‘pond site’ - have distributed a four-page leaflet arguing their case.

However, it has met with an angry response from a second group pressing for it to be developed at Pipeland Farm - the 12-hectare site touted by Fife Council.

The Campaign for a new Madras for the 21st Century claim that the Pipeland site is situated on the wrong side of the town for the majority of pupils and the continued dependence on buses travelling through St Andrews to the new school would waste scarce funds over its lifetime running into millions of pounds.

A spokesman said it would result in serious problems of traffic management, and congestion would arise in an area which already has two supermarkets and a hospital, and is likely to have a further supermarket and an hotel.

He added:”The Pipelands site is on the newly-established green belt. Development would damage the landscape in an area that Government reporters have specifically said should not, for environmental reasons, be built on. The proposal to build a school on this site is contrary to Fife Council’s own adopted Local Plan policy and is not in the jurisdiction of the council as it would probably be referred to the Scottish Government as being contrary to planning policy.

“Determination of a planning application could take a very long time. Construction on this sloping site has never been properly costed and may prove prohibitively expensive.”

The group maintain that most people agree that the new school should ideally be situated on the western side of town and an available site at the western end of the university’s North Haugh campus is specifically zoned in the council’s adopted Local Plan, endorsed by the Scottish Government, for a school and would be unlikely to meet any planning obstacles, unlike Pipeland.

The group also claim there would be many advantages of the school being developed at the ‘pond site,’ including major savings in the education travel budget and a greener carbon footprint; it would be located adjacent to its own extensive sports grounds at Station Park; and educational linkages with university teaching faculties would be greatly enhanced.

The spokesman said:”Alleged exceptional costs for building here have been greatly exaggerated, based on a report from a south of England firm which never visited the site. A local technical assessment by a civil engineer, revealed no special problems.

“There has been great resistance from the council to actively assess and pursue this clearly superior option. The reason for this has never been satisfactorily explained.”

Meanwhile, parent group Madras at Pipeland (MAP) has hit out at the content of the leaflet distributed to homes throughout St Andrews.

MAP spokesperson Wendy Donald said: “Whilst we fully respect the views of the anti-Pipeland lobby, it is disappointing that they have chosen to distribute a leaflet to homes throughout St Andrews that is extremely misleading, and contains a whole ream of inaccuracies.”

The group claims that some of the “more glaring” inaccuracies contained in the leaflet are that exceptional costs for developing the ‘pond site’ have been greatly exaggerated, meaningful discussion with the university has never taken place and the council could obtain the site at no cost to the council tax payer.

Mrs Donald said:”Dealing with the ‘greatly exaggerated’ costs first – and setting aside the extremely parochial view expressed in the leaflet that a report from a south of England firm is less competent than one from a more locally based firm - the ‘pond site’ is waterlogged. A large part of it is taken up with a pond, a water course traverses it, the southern part of it is very steeply sloping, it would be costly to service with power, gas, water and telecommunications, and it would require the construction of the first part of a distributor road to service the proposed western expansion, as well as an underpass under the A91, which would be liable to flood.

“Regarding discussions with the university, we understand that a number of meetings have taken place involving the council and the university, including a meeting between the university principal and the leader of Fife Council. If that’s not ‘meaningful,’ what is?”

Regarding the cost of the site, MAP understands that the university made the council an offer that it could not accept, with the proposed sale price far in excess of what the council is allowed to pay for a site, and the proposed land swap a non-starter due to the missmatch in valuations.

Mrs Donald said:”The council is obliged to obtain best value, and could that be achieved by swapping a piece of prime real estate in the centre of St Andrews for a swamp on the edge of town? I don’t think so.

“It is extremely disappointing that the efforts to develop a new school for the children of the local area are being actively opposed by a minority group who, in the main, have no direct link to the children who would be affected by any further delay.

“I urge anyone who wants to put the educational needs of children first, to participate in the current public consultation, and support the development of a new Madras College at Pipeland.”