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Madras College campaigners win appeal to block new school at Pipeland

An artist's impression of the planned school at Pipeland.
An artist's impression of the planned school at Pipeland.

Campaigners have won a legal battle to force Fife Council to reconsider plans to build a new Madras College at Pipeland.

Three civil appeal judges upheld a challenge brought by St Andrews Environmental Protection Association over the local authority’s decision to approve in principle a site for a new school.

Lord Malcolm said the decision would be quashed as “unlawful” and the whole matter would be sent back for reconsideration.

The judge said: “When a council is both applicant and planning authority, it will not always be easy for planning officers, councillors and others to separate and safeguard its planning jurisdiction from its interest in the proposed development.”

Lord Malcolm, who heard the appeal with Lord Drummond Young and Lady Clark of Calton, said the planning authority had adopted “an erroneous approach”.

“Any councillor reading the report would reasonably assume that if there was to be a new school, it had to be at Pipeland,” he said.

“The planning authority was diverted from the planning judgement which it required to carry out if properly exercising its jurisdiction.”

“The full council was effectively told that it should ignore the issue as to whether the green belt could be protected by using an urban site, because the applicant had already considered the matter and its decision was determinative,” said Lord Malcolm.

He added: “Thus the councillors were put in the position that if they wanted a new Madras College, and that had been a pressing need for many years, they would have to sanction development at Pipeland.”

Lord Malcolm said: “We are not suggesting that any conscious decision was taken to give priority to the council’s decision as education authority to build at Pipeland; we merely wish to emphasise the importance of constant vigilance against the obvious risks inherent in a council adjudicating upon its own application.”

The campaign group had raised a judicial review of Fife Council’s decision to grant planning permission for building a new secondary school at the site of land to the north of Pipeland Farm, Largo Road, St Andrews.

The applicant was the local authority’s property services department acting on behalf of the council as education authority.

Lord Doherty initially rejected the challenge at the Court of Session in Edinburgh last year, but his decision was appealed.

Lord Malcolm said the council decision “gave the go ahead for a major development in the green belt and on prime agricultural land, and thus was contrary to the terms of the development plan.”

He said “The proposal to build at Pipeland has proved controversial and came after many years of local debate as to the best way forward in respect of the acknowledged need for new and better secondary school facilities in the area.”

In the appeal it was argued on behalf of the environmental protection group that a planning report and the planning authority had erred in treating an alternative at North Haugh/Station Park as “a split site” and that there had been a failure to carry out a proper planning balancing exercise before concluding that Pipeland was the only suitable site.See Saturday’s Courier for more on this story.

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