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Finalised Fife Structure Plan - fierce and widespread opposition to massive house-building programme
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Council resists army of opposition to 30,000-home development

Rob Edwards, The Sunday Herald, 26 January 2008

A Scottish local authority has been accused of trying to bulldoze through plans for more than 30,000 new houses that would increase pollution, wreck the countryside and damage democracy.

The massive house-building programme being proposed by Fife Council has run into fierce and widespread opposition from government agencies, neighbouring councils, environmental organisations and scores of residents' groups. In total, more than 2500 objections have been lodged.

Public consultations have amounted to "gerrymandering" and population projections have been "seriously misleading", local residents claim. And the prospect of constructing so many new houses is alleged to have triggered "a feeding frenzy" among developers.

Yet Fife Council is determined to push through the plans, which it sees as essential for the area's economic growth. The plans are now with Scottish ministers and are due to be put out for a final round of public consultation in the next two weeks.

The housing expansion scheme is set out in Fife's revised structure plan, which determines development across the region from now until 2026. It envisages a total of 30,930 new houses, including 12,680 near Glenrothes and Kirkcaldy, 12,150 around Dunfermline, 3850 around St Andrews and 2250 around Cupar.

But the scale and the nature of the proposed development has appalled communities throughout the region. "This structure plan is a developer-led juggernaut," said Penny Uprichard from St Andrews, an executive member of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland.

"Objections have been ignored, consultations and decisions manipulated," she added. "The aim is to cover Fife, and particularly St Andrews and Cupar, in concrete."

Lack of trust in the Fife planning process had hit "rock bottom", argued Uprichard, who is also involved with the Green Belt Forum and the St Andrews Preservation Trust. "The structure plan is the most undemocratic process ever to have been visited upon Fife, or perhaps Scotland."

The 2500 objections to the structure plan in 2006, and a further 310 comments on a revised housing land appraisal last year, have been brushed aside, Uprichard claimed.

Among the objectors are three of the government's own watchdogs: Historic Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Niall Corbet, of the SNH, said: "The plan gave undue weight to economic considerations at the expense of environmental concerns. The location of the strategic development areas was determined without due consideration of environmental constraints and failed to properly address issues such as designated sites, biodiversity, flood risk and sensitive landscapes."

Fife's plans were also opposed by Dundee and Edinburgh councils, who are reluctant to encourage commuting across the Tay and the Forth. Other objectors included the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and dozens of community councils.

According to Dr Ian Goudie, vice-chairman of the St Andrews Community Council, the plans failed to take account of the climate pollution they would cause by increasing travel. The council had a "fixation with economic development at the expense of the environment," he said.

Goudie, a statistician at St Andrews University, also accused the council of greatly exaggerating the need for new housing.

Fife Council, however, defended its plans, saying that all the latest responses will be made available. Pamela Ewen, the council's strategic team leader, said: "Scottish ministers will make the final decision on Fife's finalised structure plan taking into account of all the comments made."

Councillor John Beare, who chairs Fife's planning committee, said: "We are committed to presenting a sustainable vision for economic growth, regeneration and protection of the diverse areas of Fife. A robust structure plan, sound environmental policies and up-to-date local plans can help us achieve this."

A spokesman for the Scottish government confirmed that Fife's plans were now under consideration by ministers, and another consultation was about to be launched.

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