Trust appeals Council decision

Artist's impression of West Sands visitor centre.
Artist's impression of West Sands visitor centre.

A decision on whether the proposed visitor centre for St Andrews West Sands will go ahead is expected before the end of February.

Fife Coast and Countryside Trust (FCCT) has appealed to the Scottish Government against Fife Council’s north-east planning committee decision to refuse its application for the innovative building, and a target date of February 20 has been set for a decision.

Solicitors Burness Paull LLP have submitted the appeal of behalf the FCCT and they stress: “There is a pressing and proven need to upgrade the facilities at West Stands. This is accepted by a wide range of stakeholders including the council and St Andrews Links Trust.”

The appeal highlights council procedures in the decision-making process: “Despite the recommendation of the council’s planning officers that the application should be granted, the chair of the of the committee moved to refuse the application.

“The chair of the committee used her casting vote to refuse the application on her own motion.”

At a second committee meeting, the detailed grounds for refusal were agreed and Burness Paull’s appeal highlights the disparity between the reasons given by the committee chairman, Councillor Frances Melville, and the eventual agreed decision.

Cllr Melville’s grounds were that: “The proposal would have a detrimental visual impact on the surrounding landscape due to its incompatible design and height.”

However, the committee eventually agreed a form of words proposed by planners: “In the interests of visual amenity; the proposed development would have a detrimental visual impact on the landscape character and visual amenity of the immediate and surrounding area by virtue of its scale, mass, height, location and choice of materials (including colour). The development is not of an appropriate design for this landscape character.”

The appeal, however, describes the plan as a “high quality development .. that will deliver a high quality place.”

Fife Council’s own planners are also cited in the appeal, quoting their comments that the plan was “an exemplar design which would enhance the environmental quality of the area.”

And the appeal warns: “The benefits (of the proposal) in improving beach management and public safety, providing educational facilities, supporting volunteer groups and business and creating new jobs will also be lost.”

The visitor centre plan was turned down in October, against recommendations from planning officials.

Plans for the sand dune-shaped building, described as iconic and radical, include a visitor centre, cafe and toilet block, lifeguard station, recreational area and boardwalk, replacing the existing cafe and toilets.

The £1.8 million building will be funded mainly by the Coastal Communities Fund (CCF)in the last year the organisation will be making such grants, but CCF cannot agree a grant unless planning consent is given – and it has extended its timescale so that FCCT can appeal Fife Council’s decision.

However, every day counts, as FCCT chief executive Amanda Mcfarlane explained: “CCF needs to have its money spent and all buildings completed by November 2016 – any delay in starting will have an impact on build timescales.

“In light of the size of the buildings which have been constructed in St Andrews in the past few years and those that are currently being built on the coastline of the town, we hope the Reporter will visit the site to fully grasp the context of our centre and the desperate need the beach has for new facilities

But St Andrews councillor Brian Thomson has accused the Trust of failing to understand the sensitivity of the location. The Trust should have submitted a revised planning application for a building more in keeping with its surrounds,” he commented.