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St Andrews residents brand Scottish planning system ‘unjust and undemocratic’

Sandra Stewart, front, with other members of the Abbey Park Resident's Action Group.
Sandra Stewart, front, with other members of the Abbey Park Resident's Action Group. Picture Steve Brown/DCTMedia.

A group of St Andrews residents have called for a meeting with the Scottish Government to discuss the “unjust and undemocratic” planning system.

Members of Abbey Park Residents’ Action Group are embroiled in a long-running dispute over plans for a 90-bed hotel and student accommodation near their homes.

Work has now begun to widen the access to the site.
Work has now begun to widen the access to the site. Picture Steve Brown/DCTMedia.

They thought they had won their fight against the proposal in 2019, when the North East Fife planning committee refused the application.

But months later, a Scottish Government reporter overturned the decision following an appeal by developer Robertson Properties.

Residents say the work will significantly change the quiet conservation area in which they live but they are powerless to do anything.

And they claim other plans for Abbey Park have also changed following approval from council officers.

The St Andrews group has now written to planning minister Tom Arthur to request talks.

Chairwoman Sandra Stewart says the current planning system gives developers “carte blanche” to do as they please.

“We were the first residents to move in here in 2015 and we were promised parkland with ponds,” she said.

“Instead, we’re getting a hotel, student accommodation and an increase in traffic.

“And there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Relationships are ‘acrimonious’

In 2019, the Scottish Government brought in measures designed to reduce conflict between communities and developers.

It said it would mean more community engagement, improved consultation and guidance on mediation.

Despite this, Sandra describes the relationship between Abbey Park residents, Fife Council and developer as acrimonious.

Sandra, left, with residents' group members Eric Lewis and Joyce Izatt, has previously spoken out against the removal of trees.
Sandra, left, with residents’ group members Eric Lewis and Joyce Izatt, has previously spoken out against the removal of trees.

“We are in a conservation area and are largely an older population,” she said.

“What is important to us now is the Scottish Government gets a sense of the power imbalance between developers and communities.”

Work has not yet started on the hotel and student accommodation.

However, workmen moved in this week to begin widening the access to the site.

Sandra added: “As far as we are concerned, there is no such thing as community empowerment.

“If the Scottish Government truly wants to make a difference in this area then ministers need to be willing to engage and listen.”

St Andrews work is ‘in line with development plan’

The Scottish Government confirmed an independent reporter had granted permission for the development.

A spokesman said: “The reporter was required to make the decision on the planning merits of the case and in accordance with the local development plan, unless material considerations indicated otherwise.

“The reporter considered all the information submitted by parties involved in the appeal, including those from members of the local community, and concluded that the development was in overall accordance with the development plan.”

Robertson said last year the project is on track to be delivered by the start of the 2023 academic session.

And it maintained the hotel was of a size and scale sought by Fife Council to address market imbalance and encourage more day trippers to stay overnight.

Dunfermline masterplan concerns prompt calls for communities to have more say

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