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St Andrews Bay Development (Kingask)
Issues raised during turbulent planning phase
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Objections to £50m plan overlooked in report

The Courier, 9 February 1999

Details of a major objection to the proposed £50 million hotel, conference and leisure complex at Kingask near St Andrews have not been put before councillors considering the application.

It emerged yesterday, only hours before a decision is due to be made by the east area development committee, that objections from Scottish Natural Heritage had been overlooked in a report prepared by planning officials. The body had sent a letter and supporting arguments on November 26.

East area planning manager Jim Birrell last night acknowledged that there had been a slipup in the administrative process, and said attempts would be made to find out what had happened.

He said copies of the objections would be circulated to the committee when it meets in Cupar today to make a final decision.

In the letter Scottish Natural Heritage said the application sought to introduce a large new development away from the original farm steading, existing cluster of buildings and associated woodland into open countryside.

The body said there was a fundamental difference in the nature, scale and location of what was now proposed to what had permission in principle.

“Scottish Natural Heritage considers the scale and type of the built development as proposed is not appropriate to, or in keeping with, its landscape setting.

“As a result the proposed development will result in a significant and adverse visual and landscape impact. These impacts comprise loss of landscape character, adverse impact on the landscape setting of St Andrews, erosion of the landscape quality associated with the area of great landscape value and proximity of development to the coast.”

It was said that there would also be an associated adverse impact on people’s experience of the landscape and views from the coastal footpath.

The letter said SNH was of the view that the proposed development would have significant impacts on the natural heritage of the area. The built development planned would not be compatible with criteria in national planning policy guidelines and current development plans to ensure appropriate and sensitive siting.

Elsewhere in their representations SNH said they were particularly concerned the proposed mitigation of the new building was reliant on successful establishment of new planting. The proposed planting might not be as success as predicted, might fail altogether in such an exposed coastal location, or at best would take a long time to become established.

In a subsequent letter the body has maintained its objection and said that amendments which had been tabled did not resolve fundamental concerns about the location, scale and nature of the proposal.

Meanwhile the planning convener of St Andrews Community Council has launched a scathing attack on senior Fife Council officials - accusing them of embarrassing U-turns in their stance over the Kingask proposal.

Ian Goudie also reckons that objectors would “have a field day” if the application ever went to a public inquiry, and accused the local authority of “clutching at straws” through its support of St Andrews Bay Development Ltd’s newly proposed travel management scheme.

Mr Goudie said yesterday, ”The leading Labour figures in Fife appear to support the Kingask project in the belief jobs are more important than environmental considerations. Although they seem to have ignored the largely seasonal nature of the work and the huge uncertainties of the whole project, it seems an honest, if misguided stance, in line with their previous attitudes.

“In contrast it is the approach taken by the top officials of Fife Council that has incensed people in St Andrews. They have effectively disowned a whole string of planning guidelines that they have produced or commissioned.

“For the sake of the Kingask application they are prepared to override the St Andrews Transportation Study, the St Andrews Strategic Study, the Landscape Assessment Study and Fife’s policy on town centres.

“They have been performing U-turns that would make the most hard-bitten politician blush, and clutching at any fig leaf to hide their embarrassment.”

Mr Goudie said the latest fig leaf - the travel management scheme - would do little to hide officials’ nakedness. His salvo was fired just weeks after the council said that excess traffic from Kingask could “strangle” an already congested St Andrews.

He said it is “simply not plausible” that the hotel could control the movements of its guests by bussing them from rail or plane interchanges. He also suggested that the idea of guests being prepared to relinquish their cars was “not in the real world.”

“Attempts to govern the trips that guests take during their stay is even less so. If such a regime were attempted the guests would be forming an escape committee and tunnel their way out,” claimed Mr Goudie.

He claimed that hardly a number in the report could stand up to scientific investigation through a public inquiry.

“The stance taken by officials had created a huge policy vacuum for St Andrews at a point where a strategic overview is most needed. The short-sighted position they have adopted means they must now make up policy on the hoof. Planning procedures depend crucially on precedent. You cannot, with any hope of success, try to enforce tomorrow the rules you were prepared to waive today,” he said.

“It is widely known that the Kingask application is only the first of a string of proposals for golf courses and golf-related projects around the town. If the planners intend to oppose any of these applications - a hypothesis which looks wildly optimistic on recent showing - they have left themselves with hardly any tools to do so.

“A coherent approach to long-term planning requires the skills of a chess player - looking several moves ahead to see the future implications of current strategy. Few of the officials of Fife Council will cause Gary Kasparov to have sleepless nights,” he concluded.

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