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St Andrews Bay Development (Kingask)
Turbulent Planning Phase - General Comment
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Go-ahead for golf hotel plan

James Rougvie, The Scotsman, 8 July 1999

Fears have been expressed that St Andrews could soon be under siege from developers after approval was given for a controversial £50 million golf, conference and hotel complex on the outskirts of the town.

Despite objections from a raft of influential national bodies, protests from locals, and appeals to Donald Dewar, the First Minister, to hold a public inquiry into the plans for the 500-acre Kingask site, Fife Council has insisted that the promise of nearly 300 jobs and the injection of millions of pounds into the local economy was its top priority.

But Peter Douglas, the chairman of the north-east planning committee of the council, said the decision showed ways had been found by the council to get round a number of its statutory policies.

He said: “Now that the door has been opened to find ways around these policies, the council will find it very difficult to refuse any further applications. If it does, there will be little chance of winning on appeal and I think there will now be a flood of further applications. St Andrews will be a magnet and I believe the area will now come under siege.”

The council yesterday refused one application for a development to the south, at Scooniehill, which involves two golf courses and related accommodation, but it is expected the proposal will return.

Another development, at Feddinch, for a golf course and 600 holiday units, a hotel, clubhouse and a 350-capacity conference suite has been withdrawn in the meantime.

Objectors led by Scottish Natural Heritage and Historic Scotland have consistently opposed the Kingask plans, claiming that the environment of the area would be irreparably damaged by the construction of the 208-bedroom hotel arid ancillary buildings and the fabric of the town placed under threat by what they claimed would be vastly increased traffic flows from the complex.

The 12 Labour councillors on the strategic development committee, none of whom represent the north-east Fife area, made it clear that they believed problems with traffic could be overcome and that the alleged environmental issues could also be resolved.

Bill Brand, the committee convener, said: “Jobs are important because there is still unemployment in the east of Fife.”

He said it did not matter whether the jobs which would be created would benefit the Levenmouth unemployment black spot or the fishing villages in the East Neuk.

“A job is a job and we ignore opportunities like this at our peril which could attract further inward investment. We are not disregarding other issues such as the environment because we genuinely believe these issues can be well managed.”

Yesterday’s meeting may have been the last gasp of protest from hundreds of objectors who have complained that the home of golf is being over-run by its primary tourist industry. The Kingask plans of the St Andrews Bay Development Company were originally rejected by the local area planning authority, but they were called in by Fife Council, despite the previous practice of allowing local members to decide matters in their own backyard.

It became evident yesterday that the Labour members of the committee had little sympathy with the views of the objectors.

Jock Taylor, from Dysart, said the council put £500,000 into tourism in Fife and the major benefactor was St Andrews.

He said: “It would be crass stupidity to reject this, when not a penny of taxpayers’ money is being spent. If people want to see environmental problems they should come to central Fife and see the open-cast works.”

While the four Liberal Democrats and a lone Scottish National Party dissident expressed cynicism over a transport plan to alleviate traffic congestion in the heart of St Andrews stemming from Kingask - there will be an estimated 584 trips a day to and from the golf complex into St Andrews - the council has put in place a series of financial penalties on the company if traffic flows exceed estimations.

There are also 33 conditions with which the company must comply, from the finish on the buildings to a management and conservation plan and road management scheme.

Councillor Bob Taylor asked if councillors really wanted to resist pressure for new golfing facilities in order to maintain a conservative vision of what St Andrews should be like, or to use planning conditions to ensure new developments were introduced in a sensitive way.

He said that the Kingask proposal affected not just St Andrews but jobs and training opportunities for the whole of Fife.

He said: “If this is rejected, it may not be there again and may give developers the impression that we are not really serious about attracting inward investment of this kind. There is enormous job creation potential in a development of this kind.”

Penny Uprichard, of the St Andrews Preservation Society, said she was not surprised by the outcome. “The officials have done a tremendous lot of work with the developers, which is an unusual role. This will set a precedent for other developers’ which the council will be unable to resist.”

A spokesman for the developer said later that work on the development would begin almost immediately.

He said: “This is an outstanding site and we are confident that the hotel, conference centre and golf courses will quickly become an international attraction. The project will bring many benefits to St Andrews and Fife.”


Turbulent Planning Phase - General Comment
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'Theme park' sparks mixed reactions

Gavin Bell, The Scotsman, 8 July 1999

The only birdies to be seen at Kingask Farm on the outskirts of St Andrews yesterday were the feathered kind - larks, starlings and chaffinches chattering above a sweep of green and golden arable land sloping gently to the sea.

On a calm summer day, it is a peaceful place where dirt-tracks meander vaguely around old farm buildings, and down to cliffs overlooking water that shimmers like hammered steel.

Within a couple of years, the erstwhile wheat and barley fields will be teeming with golfers pursuing birdies of a more elusive kind, and paying for the privilege of doing so in the latest purpose-built extension to the “home of golf".

The approval of a £50 million golf and leisure development on the site provoked mixed emotions two miles away in the ancient royal burgh, where the game reputedly first appeared 500 years ago.

There are those who regard the new tourist playground as an outrage, those who think it will be good for business, and, as usual, a lot of people who could not care less.

Dr Frank Riddell, a reader in chemistry at St Andrews University and chairman of the burgh community council, is firmly in the first camp.

He said: “If I appear agitated, it is because I am,” he said when the news came through. “Fife Council has breached about every planning policy in the books to turn St Andrews into a golfing Disneyland.”

The essence of Dr Riddell’s objections is that the development will threaten the character of the town by strangling it with traffic, diminishing the green belt around it, and paving the way for similar schemes that will eventually transform the golfing mecca into a glorified theme park. In a press statement spiced with catchy hyperbole, he spoke of enormous public outrage at “this rape of our beautiful town”.

Popular fury was not immediately apparent in Market Street, where all tourists and their credit cards are gratefully received, though Dr Riddell appeared to have an ally in master cobbler Tony Wardle. “Have we no got enough golf courses?” he observed. “I’d say that’s the last thing we need. It’ll just be somebody wantin’ to make plenty of money as usual.”

A few doors along in the Central Bar, the landlord Keith Irving could not see what all the fuss was about: “It sounds like a good idea, providing they get the traffic sorted out. Bringing more people to the town has to be a good thing.”

Given that St Andrews has survived centuries of wars and sieges, Mr Irving does not reckon a tourist development two miles away on the road to Crail will spell the end of life in the town as we know it.

“I doubt if it will make much difference. The planners are very strict about what you can do in the town. Just try and put up a sign without permission and see what happens,” he said.

There is no doubt that an increasing volume of traffic is a problem, which is not entirely solved by an obscure system of parking permits purchased from fruit and veg shops.

The spires of Holy Trinity and St Salvator’s may have withstood medieval plunderers, but they now tremble before hordes of Astras and Volkswagens.

“It’s damnable trying to get across the road at the best of times,” Joan said yesterday.

Joan declined to give her full name, but confided she had lived all of her 85 years in St Andrews and for most of them, had been a keen golfer.

“I don’t mind how many golf courses they build, it doesn’t bother me one way or the other. But it would be good if they could do something about the traffic. The other day I was standing waiting to cross the street and I counted 40 cars.”

Curiously, the local golfing fraternity is not jumping for joy at the prospect of more playgrounds. The prevailing wisdom is that more courses means more golfers, and extra pressure on existing facilities that are struggling to meet demand.

There are already six golf courses in the town, including the Old Course, and another four miles away, and all of them are heavily subscribed. For visitors, the odds of being selected from a daily ballot for a round on the Old Course, is currently 5-1. All the others are operating at over 90 per cent capacity and the “course full” signs are expected to go up in three or four years.

Peter Mason, a spokesman for the Links Trust, which manages all of the town’s courses, says: “All our experience leads us to believe that any development aimed at encouraging golfers to come to St Andrews will increase demand for our facilities. In the recent past, five new courses have opened within ten miles of the town and there has been no diminution of demand to play on our links courses.”

Mr Mason notes that for aficionados of the game, the prospect of playing on a links course is what draws them to St Andrews. The new courses at Kingask, he points out, will be parkland. “We can expect quite a few of the new arrivals to wander in our direction,” he says. His tone suggests he is not overjoyed.

Up at the site, fields harvested for wheat and potatoes last September are turning to weeds, and grain-drying sheds and workers’ cottages are waiting silently for the developers.

“Farming is not doing well just now,” says Mike Logan, the eldest son of the farmer who sold the land for an undisclosed sum. “A lot of us are having to turn our steadings into holiday flats and cottages.”

He reckons anything that brings money into the area has to be a good thing for everybody. And personally he is quite looking forward to having a couple of golf courses nearby, not to mention a leisure centre and a restaurant.

An architect on the project, browsing through deserted farm buildings with the date 1882 carved on their stone facades, offers a historical perspective: “I suppose it was like this when they built Turnberry and Gleneagles 100 years ago. People probably objected then, but once they are up and running, the pain goes away.” He was not, therefore, unduly concerned by the objections over Kingask.

Par for the course, you might say.


Turbulent Planning Phase - General Comment
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Douce town that failed to fight off the modernisers

James Rougvie, The Scotsman, 8 July 1999

It was the champagne reception hosted by Fife Council’s convener, John MacDougall, for the St Andrews Bay Development Co which alerted and alarmed douce St Andreans of a mega-development on their doorstep.

Not that it was particularly unusual for the council to woo big bucks from overseas investors. Hyundai was given the same red carpet treatment and other industrialists have also been glad-handed throughout the country as local authorities compete for jobs.

At the time all that was known about the company was that its main man, Dr Don Panoz was a big player on the international sports scene. He and his wife, Nancy, set up the Elan pharmaceutical company in Dublin 30 years ago. He took out Irish citizenship before going public and the company has made millions from the development of nicotine patches.

Keeping a seat on the board, he developed the Chateau Elan golf course complex in Georgia where the Legends Sarazen World Open is played each year. He runs the Panoz Automatlve motor racing team which competes at Le Mans and owns racing tracks in Florida and Atlanta.

Several years ago he set eyes on the 500-acre Kingask site, where plans by a local farmer for a golf course and modest hotel a mile and a half south along the coast had lain fallow for a number of years. Outline planning consent had been obtained, but never taken up.

The ambitious plans by the then unknown Dr Panoz’s company, which bought Kingask for a reputed £2.5 million, and then changed the nature of the development into a £50 million investment unrecognisable from the original, had not even been lodged with the council at the time the champagne corks were popping.

From the beginning therefore, there was a feeling of a done deal - an allegation hotly rejected by officials and Labour councillors - but it sowed the seeds of acrimony between locals anxious to protect a historic medieval town and councillors from areas far removed from the relative affluence of St Andrews. It also aroused distrust in the planning system.

For several years councillors in the former district council areas of Fife had been allowed to decide their own planning matters. So it was that the north-east committee threw out the Kingask proposal earlier this year, alarmed at the size and scale of the development and the traffic which would be generated. That should have been the end of the matter.

But the affair turned sour when it was suggested that the respected former parish minister Councillor Peter Douglas should resign from the northeast tourist board for being instrumental in torpedoing the plan. There was a thinly veiled suggestion that the north-east committee members had made up their minds before making a decision in committee.

When St Andrews Bay came back with an amended proposal the Fife Council decided, since other developments were looming, that what had been a local matter was now a strategic priority affecting the whole region, and that councillors at the centre - where Labour is predominant - would take the final decision.

For every objection put up by local bodies or key national conservation organisations such as Scottish Natural Heritage, Historic Scotland, the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, the council’s planners had an answer, convinced that each could be overcome despite a raft of local policy documents against further development.

Waiting in the wings now may be a series of further developments hoping to use, the home of golf as a magnet for visitors to this corner of Fife.

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