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Turbulent Planning Phase - General Comment
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Big guns back St Andrews £50m golf and leisure project

The Courier, 15 January 1999

Proposals for a £50 million hotel, conference and golf course development near St Andrews were boosted yesterday by several big guns pledging their support. Fife Enterprise, tourist board and chamber of commerce all publicly backed the clifftop project at Kingask overlooking St Andrews Bay two miles south-east of the town.

Chiefs of the St Andrews Bay Development Company are said to be delighted at the heavyweight support for the project that would create one of Scotland’s largest conference and leisure facilities and is expected to provide 300 jobs.

Yesterday, a company spokesman said more than 800 people had written to Fife Council backing the Kingask scheme which, with the St Andrews Gateway project, will be considered by the area planning and development committee at Cupar next week.

Des Montgomery, of project advisers Montgomery Forgan Associates, Cupar, said an “unprecedented” number of letters from St Andrews residents backing the project had been sent to council planners since modified designs were recently submitted to Fife Council. Support had also come from Boarhills, Kingsbarns, Leuchars and Guardbridge.

He added it was now evident that local residents had welcomed the changes in the developer’s plans, their assurances about the Fife Coastal Path and the implementation of environmental measures. “In particular, they have welcomed the traffic management measures which, when enforced, will improve traffic flow in St Andrews,” he said.

Kingdom of Fife Tourist Board chairwoman Elizabeth Dunlop said yesterday, “A development like this will make a major contribution to the Fife tourism industry. It will enable the board, in particular our in-house convention bureau, to pursue new avenues of business and attract specific events of a size which cannot currently be handled by existing venues.”

Robert MacKenzie, chief executive of Fife Enterprise, added, “This proposal offers a unique opportunity for Fife to secure a major hotel, leisure and conference facility and will create significant business and employment opportunities in North East Fife.”

The two 18-hole golf courses, 208-bedroom luxury hotel and conference facility and five executive-type lodges will cater to blue-chip company conferences and create 500 jobs in the construction phase, said Dr Don Panoz, chairman of the St Andrews Bay Development Company. He claimed more than £14 million would be brought to the Fife economy in the first year alone, while guests at the complex would extend the tourist season into a 12-month operation, pouring millions of pounds in extra spending into local hotels, restaurants and shops.

However, widespread opposition to the plans persists, in particular from St Andrews Community Council, St Andrews Preservation Trust and the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland.

The community council has reacted with “disbelief” to the recommendation for approval given by local planning chief Jim Birrell to the St Andrews Gateway Centre and Kingask projects, which go before Fife Council’s east area development committee next week.

Community council vice-chairman and planning convener Dr Ian Goudie warned, “This puts us close to meltdown for planning policy for the town. If applications as rank and gross as these are approved, then virtually anything goes. In particular, the concept of a Green Belt is scuppered before it gets off the ground.”

The £8 million Gateway Centre, at the western entrance to the town at the university’s North Haugh science campus, would comprise a museum, international visitor centre and club complex and is expected to create about 70 jobs.

Dr Goudie yesterday said the community council was “surprised” that Mr Birrell had given the green light for the developments even before scaffolding had been erected to show the outline of the four-storey Gateway Centre and the Kingask hotel complex.

He added, “The scaffolding is to be in place for site visits this morning. It is rumoured that it is unlikely to be left much longer than that. If this is so, the developers are clearly reluctant to reveal the real visual impact of the buildings.”

He said that the Kingask developers had pooled huge resources into promoting their scheme, but claimed that hopes of a significant employment boost could prove “a cruel illusion.

Dr Goudie continued, “Little economic insight is needed to see that a scheme that depends on flying in a continuous stream of Americans is likely to prove hare-brained.

“If it were to be approved, the damage to the town will be huge. The demand from employees for housing in St Andrews would demolish the Strategic Study almost before the ink is dry.”

Donald Macgregor, chairman of the community council, added, “Clearly the officials had to determine the Kingask application within the legislative time limits. I believe, however, that the correct procedure would be to refuse it and to encourage the applicant to return with a more scaled down scheme and in proportion to the locality. There are still far too many uncertainties for this to be acceptable.”

The community council also maintains that the Gateway Centre will dominate the view as people approach St Andrews, irreparably damaging the entrance to the town”.

Dr Goudie said, “Although it has been misleadingly described as a university development, the university museum would occupy less than one-eighth of the building. A substantial proportion of the development would be given over to non-university uses, including golf changing facilities, beauty therapy, physiotherapy and saunas.

The community council urged residents to view the scaffolding at both locations and to make their views known in a short letter to the local authority at Cupar before the planning meeting next Tuesday. Dr Goudie added, “I would ask all those concerned for the future of the town to do so.”

Last night the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland also criticised the approval recommendations made for both plans and accused the Kingask developers of “pressure and arm twisting”.

The society has been heavily critical of of both the Kingask and the North Haugh schemes and the secretary of Tayside and East Fife Group, Glen Pride, has re-emphasised the society’s opposition.

Mr Pride said the applications still had to go to committee and he hoped that councillors would take account of all the good arguments which had been put against the schemes and vote accordingly.

“With Kingask it has been like trying to stop a steamroller: their representatives have been playing cards all along the line.

“I have also heard that all over the Christmas period people were going around with photocopied letters supporting Kingask and getting anybody and everybody to sign them. When people adopt these sort of tactics where are you?”

Mr Pride said that as far as he was aware, there were still unresolved problems of traffic and sewerage and he hoped that full account would be taken of them.

“With the amount of pressure and arm-twisting that has been going on I am not surprised, but I’m very disappointed.

“We will just have to wait and see and hope that the committee see sense.”

He added, however, that he felt the committee was sometimes only strong enough to deal with “old Mrs McLafferty down the main street” who puts double glazing in a conservation area.

“They are very good at bullying these sort of people, but otherwise they just lie down and let It all happen.

“If they let Kingask go, there is the Gateway, and then who is going to try to stop Scoonlehill?

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