CSARA ADDRESS TO THE PREDETERMINATION HEARING - PIPELAND FARM
David Middleton


In this highly divisive and controversial planning application there are two areas which we can, thankfully, all agree.

I doubt if there is anyone in this theatre who does not accept, or even enthusiastically support, the need for a new secondary school for the Madras Catchment Area. But there is also no doubt that a Pipeland location would offend against numerous local plan policies intended to protect St Andrews from damaging development.

These policies have only recently been adopted after a long process of public consultation, an examination in Public by a Government Reporter, then approved finally by the Council and the Scottish Government. Clearly these policies should not be lightly cast aside.

While respecting the understandable frustration of many parents with the extended process to achieve a new school, I would respectfully suggest that planning policies are not overcome by a popular vote and that members will be acutely aware that the legitimate needs and interest of the whole community must be addressed in making planning decisions

In attempting to persuade the Planning Committee that two of these Local Plan Policies – Development in the Green Belt and on Prime Agricultural Land - can be put aside, the applicant seeks to make a case that there is no suitable alternative site throughout the 120 square miles of the extensive Madras catchment area. Building at Pipeland would result in the permanent loss of 30 acres of Prime Agricultural Land in the Green Belt.

The third major policy affecting the Pipeland site, Development in the Countryside does not have any get-out clause related to the absence of an alternative site.

A major issue for members must therefore be whether the seriously adverse effects of this development on the environment can be justified by a need to build the replacement Madras School on this particular site.

An equally important issue is whether a school at Pipeland will best meet the educational needs of one thousand four hundred children and young people who will attend it daily over the sixty year lifetime of the school.

It is useful to look at the original criteria for siting the replacement Madras, originally identified in 2007 and reiterated by the present Fife Council administration when they took office.

Firstly, recognising that two thirds of pupils have homes in the Taybridgehead settlements and smaller communities to the North and West of St Andrews, the first criterion was that the school should be on the western side of St Andrews, in order to cut down journey times for the majority of children. As Madras is a community use school this would also improve equality of access for the wider community.

Secondly, The site, preferably, would be in the ownership of the Council.

Thirdly. There was an aspiration that the school should be associated with the University in order to encourage joint approaches to education, and sharing of facilities.

I do not want to dwell on the disappointing breakdown of negotiations with the University regarding shared facilities, but it is useful to note how far away the Pipeland Proposal is from this original vision.

Rather than generalize about this, I would like to give you some detail on the adverse social and environmental costs of locating the replacement school at Pipeland.

Nineteen school busses, each making four journeys each day would result in 78 unnecessary journeys though the town on already congested roads and junctions operating near, at, or over capacity. To this would be added staff cars, parents dropping off children biomass HGVs and other traffic generated by the school. Compared to a site on the west of the town, this will add about fifteen minutes extra travel time each day (or up to 50 hours each year) for those pupils with the longest travel times.

The school if approved would have only one vehicle access through the hospital access road. School busses and other school traffic would compete with patients trying to get to their appointments at peak times. The National Health Service which owns the road has been asked to relocate parking places some distance away at the top of a steep hill. The NHS and hospital facilities managers have objected to the application on the grounds of safety for school children and hazards for their patients. These problems are insurmountable and it is very unlikely that the NHS would wish to compromise vital patient services by removing their objection. This clearly should have been an issue assessed early in the site selection process, but this application was embarked on with virtually no assessment of the suitability of the site.

Despite suggestions that these problems can be mitigated, they cannot be cured and will increase over time as the population of St Andrews grows with a planned increase in households of about one third over the next twenty years, and increased numbers of elderly people.

This proposal if agreed would have a serious impact on amenity and quality of life not only those using hospital services, but also those living in nearby homes
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  1. Patients from all over North East fife will experience difficulty when attending appointments at the community hospital.
     

  2. Patients receiving end of life care in the hospice ward and garden would, instead of having a prospect of a green hillside leading towards the sea, have this replaced by a car park, large building and biomass chimney.
     

  3. Residents with homes to the north of the site on Scooniehill Road and Lamberton Place, many elderly, road will have fears about a recurrence of flooding experienced in recent years exacerbated by building on the hillside.
     

  4. These same residents would live in close proximity to a floodlit all-weather pitch.
    Floodlighting which can affect the health and wellbeing of those living nearby is classified as a statutory nuisance. Objections about a similar facility in Cupar caused the proposal to be abandoned
    .

In order to reduce parent cars using the drop off facility at the school and further congestion on the Hospital access road, it is assumed that 50% of these will use Scooniehill Road. It is clear that the congestion on Scooniehill Road and nuisance to people in this residential area has not been properly assessed. The Traffic consultants who provided a report in support of the Education Service’s planning application do not appear to have confidence in their own as they propose as a backstop that starting and finishing times for pupils could be staggered,

Scooniehill and Lamberton Place residents would pay a high price for a decision to build a school at Pipeland on a site which is clearly inappropriate for this purpose.

Given all the additional serious adverse affects of this development which I expect other speakers will cover, it is difficult to know why the Education Service decided to proceed with such an inappropriate, divisive and damaging proposal on a site, assessed as 7th best on the scoring matrix produced for the Education and Children’s Services Committee on 10th November 2007.

The Education Service might say in its defence that no other suitable site is available, but this suggestion cannot be sustained in the light of the senior council official’s advice to the Leader of the Council, that any attempt to secure Pipeland through a compulsory purchase order would fail because there was a viable alternative option, albeit one which was not acceptable to the current political administration.

He was of course referring to Kilrymont, previously promoted enthusiastically by education officials. The same statement serves to demonstrate that the essential test for building on Green Belt and Prime Agricultural Land - that no other alternative site is available – cannot be met.

However, I do not wish to propose that Kilrymont should be brought back into the frame as a much more suitable site is available, one which meets virtually all of the criteria set out by the Education Service at the outset of the site selection exercise. This is the North Haugh site offered for straight sale or exchange for the South Street building by the University. The A Listed South Street Building will in any case be a serious liability for the Council until a suitable alternative use is found for it. Historic Scotland has emphasized the need for this to be addressed within the planning application.

The benefits of the North Haugh site are obvious. It is adjacent to the school’s own excellent and extensive sports field at Station Park. The Council therefore already owns most of the land required for the school and could obtain the adjacent North Haugh site at a cost equivalent to buying Pipeland and relocating the gas main on this site which would have to be removed and replaced at a cost of £1.5 million. Other exceptional costs attributed to the North Haugh site have been found not to be supported by the facts. After extensive inquiry, no evidence has been found that the University would expect the Council to contribute £5 million or more for a distributor Road. By comparison, exceptional costs for Pipeland have been estimated to be in the region of £13million

The Education Service have suggested the North Haugh site that it is unaffordable because its purchase cost would not meet Legal Best Value criteria. This is incorrect. Audit Scotland make it clear that Best Value applies to the total cost of a project over its lifetime, not one particular aspect of the cost of a school such as site acquisition. By comparison, the price the Pipeland site, together with the £1.5 million cost of removing and repositioning a major gas main discovered late in the day, together with the cost of excavating the hillside to accommodate a much smaller sports facility than that at Station Park, would exceed the asking price of the much more suitable North Haugh site.

There are no planning problems related to the North Haugh site. It is zoned for educational, purposes and the Government Reporter who examined the local plan and specifically removed development from Pipeland on environmental and landscape grounds stated that it would be sensible to retain the North Haugh site for the replacement Madras. This site is of course adjacent to the major housing area planned for the town

In addition the North Haugh site would be easily accessed by a ten minute bus service from its main catchment and would encourage community use from this area. This flexible service would enable savings to be made on the £1million annual bussing bill for pupils, reduce congestion in the built up area and help to meet carbon emission targets.

It is stated that Station Park will be retained so there will be a continuing revue burden for a council trying to balance its budget. This also demonstrates that all the required facilities for a community use school cannot be provided at Pipeland.

The narrative which seeks to show that Pipeland is the only suitable option cannot be sustained. The decision for siting the new school should be made on land use planning grounds. A key issue is choice of a location which provides the widest access for its users, can be easily served by public transport and does not jeop
ardise the safe and efficient operation of vital public services.

If North Haugh had been assessed on equal terms to Pipeland it would have been shown to be a much more straightforward site to develop, more likely to be delivered quickly and to and have no planning problems.

Members may feel that they are presented with decision to approve a school Pipeland – the only location currently on offer - or delay once again the provision of a much needed facility.

Refusing planning permission in principle for Pipeland, on the substantive grounds I have identified, would not be the end of the story, but the start of a new and much more exciting chapter in the history of Madras, and one which I believe could be delivered quickly and gain wide community support.