A row has broken out over shelved plans for a major visitor attraction on an eyesore Fife opencast site.
Designer Charles Jencks’ had come up with a bold blueprint for Scottish Coal’s restoration of the huge St Ninian’s opencast mine skirting the M90.
The ambitious multi-million-pound plan for a “map of the world” landscaped park was taking shape when Scottish Coal went bust, putting the project’s future into jeopardy.
Hargreaves stepped in to continue opencast operations on the site but a huge question mark hung over the restoration project.
A senior Fife Council official lambasted local MSP Alex Rowley for not “celebrating” the achievement of securing a much reduced plan.
Mr Rowley said it was hard to celebrate what amounted to “a large hole in the ground”.
In addition, he has slammed officials for dealing with the trimmed back scheme under delegated powers, meaning councillors were denied the chance to have their say.
He has likened it to Westfield, another eyesore legacy of Fife’s industrial past.
“I take the view that the restoration of the area now amounts to a large hole that will fill up with water,” he said.
“The only difference between this and Westfield is that the sides of the water area have been graded and this now seems to be considered as restoration,” he said.
“This is not an acceptable position and neither is the complete lack of engagement with local communities on the changed plans and the total lack of transparency around these sites.”
Mr Rowley has now sought urgent talks with Fife Council chief executive Steve Grimmond as his opinion of suitable restoration of the site is “quite a distance apart” from that of senior planning manager Jim Birrell.
The row emerged as Mr Rowley said he would raise his concerns with councillors and the planning committee on the way Mr Birrell’s service had dealt with the matter and the “complete lack of openness and transparency” and “absolute failure” to consult with local communities.
The Cowdenbeath MSP said there is a growing feeling that, given the fact the original ambitious scheme was thrown on the scrapheap, it may be better and safer to restore the land to its original condition.
“Given it is now not going to be the national land art project, why is this not being considered?” he asked Mr Birrell.
Mr Rowley said consulting when restoration was complete was too late.
“What kind of restoration is going to be done and just what kind of massive scar on the landscape will the people who live in the area have to put up with for evermore?” he asked.
Mr Birrell said he felt the work carried out by the council in search of a resolution had been a success and should be celebrated not criticised.
He said: “A great deal of work has gone in to making sure the site, which is now owned by Hargreaves, is successfully restored since Scottish Coal stopped trading.
“We negotiated long and hard with the financial advisers in the absence of a bond fund and managed to secure over £2.5 million.
“This information is publicly available with detailed reports also presented to the council’s executive and scrutiny committees.
“As well as the numerous consultation events Hargreaves has held and is currently holding on the next stages of the site, we also asked the local community to have their say through FIFEplan local development plan consultation.
“We will continue to work closely with Hargreaves to make sure the site is restored to include a combination of woodland, agriculture and recreational open space in the short term. No changes to the current proposals will be submitted without further public consultation and engagement.”