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St Andrews Bay Development (Kingask)
Issues raised during turbulent planning phase
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Legal probe into firm's approach to councillors

The Courier, 18 January 1999

Legal officials of Fife Council are to be asked to investigate an approach made to members of Fife Council’s east area development committee in advance of tomorrow’s crucial discussion on the multi-million pound development at Kingask, near St Andrews.

This emerged yesterday when the chairwoman of the committee, St Andrews councillor Frances Melville, said there was “great concern” among councillors over the a letter sent by representatives of St Andrews Bay Development Ltd.

It is claimed that a request for a meeting at this time is a breach of well-established procedures governing the canvassing of councillors.

Last night, a spokesman from the firm involved, top PR firm PS Communication Consultants (PSCC), strongly defended the move, which was said to be not unusual.

Any meeting could have taken place in the presence of a council official, and would be designed only to make sure that a decision was taken on the basis of all the facts.

Mrs Melville revealed that the area’s law and administration officer, Morag Wallace, was to be asked to look into the contents of the letter from PSCC, which lists among its activities media relations, lobbying, campaigning and crisis management.

Members of the planning committee, together with St Andrews councillor Jane Ann Liston who is not on the committee, received a letter from the firm’s Mr Denis Sullivan.

In the letter, sent on January 11, Mr Sullivan said his firm had been asked by St Andrews Bay Development to advise on the Kingask project.

“I am aware that the area planning manager is issuing his report on the project on Tuesday of this week, and I should be most grateful if you could find time thereafter to speak with me later this week, or at the weekend, but in any event before the meeting of the area development committee on January 19.”

Mr Sullivan said he keenly appreciated the pressures on councillors’ time but hoped he would be able to meet Mrs Melville at her home, or nearby.

He said that, for convenience, it might be suitable to meet at the same time with the other St Andrews councillors, and also perhaps Councillor Jane Hunter-Blair.

Coucillor Melville said yesterday she had rejected any suggestion that there should be a meeting with representatives of the applicants only days before the discussion at committee.

“I am extremely concerned about this, and I know that a number of my colleagues feel the same way,” she said.

“We have to operate to very strict guidelines which are well known to councillors, officials and applicants alike.

“It has been made very clear to us, from the day this application was first mentioned, that we had to be meticulous in the way we dealt with it. No discussions with applicants of developers should ever take place unless a council official is present.”

Committee chairman Peter Douglas said he had no intention of having any contact with Mr Sullivan. The only question which could possibly be asked at this stage related to any additional information the committee did not possess. A council official, he said, would have to be present.

“I certainly would not meet with them in private, and I would very strongly advise my members not to have anything to do with it.”

Anthony Garrett, a committee member and former district council planning chairman, said he was not aware of any law which ruled out an approach to members, but there would certainly never be any meeting without a council official present. “I will not be responding to this letter,” he added.

Newport and Wormit member Edith McFee said she had been extremely annoyed to receive the letter, which she felt was completely out of place in advance of the meeting.

“There are guidelines for this type of thing,” she said.

The only Independent member of the committee, East Neuk councillor Jimmy Braid, said he had not received the letter but “would have ignored it anyway.” Such a letter, he said, was completely out of order.

Last night, Mr Sullivan said, on behalf of PSCC, that St Andrews Bay Development had been “so concerned about misrepresentations and the extravagance of the criticism” about its proposed development at Kingask that it had sought advice.

PSCC, it was said, spoke about the project to a wide range of people and organisations who might be affected by the development, to enable them to come to a balanced view of it.

It was significant, said Mr Sullivan, that there had been more than 800 individual expressions of support for the project.

“In the course of its consultations, PSCC wrote to members of the area development committee. The letter indicated there would be no contact until after the Fife Council officials had made a recommendation to councilors.

“Over a lengthy period of time SABDL and its advisers have met with councillors to seek their advice on the development.”

In conversation with Mrs Melville, he said, issues relating to traffic and sewage were raised.

Mr Sullivan said it was not unusual for councillors to speak to developers, and he had made it clear to Mrs Melville he would be prepared to discuss the issues along with an official.

He was anxious that any questions which remained unanswered could be dealt with.

A lot of people, he said, had been prepared to misrepresent, exaggerate and distort the facts.

“I have to make sure that, when they sit down on Tuesday to make that decision, they do it based on the facts.”

Prospective Conservative candidate for North East Fife, Ted Brocklebank, urged councillors to reject the Kingask proposals.

“What I am totally opposed to is the scale of the St Andrews Bay Development complex and its inevitable effect on the skyline overlooking St Andrews. If this application succeeds, a horse and cart has been driven through the Green Belt concept before it is even off the ground," he said.

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