The ST Andrews Environmental Protection Association Limited

The Association has been set up with the aim of protecting the environment of St Andrews and North East Fife.

Scottish Government Review of Planning 2015

STEPAL response to the Review:

Response to Review of Planning 2015
with comments on a selection of the suggested questions

  1. STEPAL (The St Andrews Environmental Protection Association) accepts that Development Plans are vital to prepare for an integrated future for any area. However, local people should have more say in their construction and implementation, and decisions taken on a local level by local planning committees should take precedence over regional council decisions wherein few councillors have little knowledge of specific local issues and often vote along national political party lines. This is especially important where an adopted Local Plan e.g. that for North East Fife is ignored by the Regional Council and permission is given to build on a recently designated (2012) Green Belt when other sites are available. This is also Prime Agricultural Land which should be conserved.

  2. Housing Delivery is vital for the future health of all local areas. Many new homes are needed in Scotland to house the increasing population and meet social trends such as single occupancy and local needs. There is a very special situation in St Andrews where few areas of social housing are left as most of the former council houses have been purchased for private homes by a now ageing population, turned into HMOs for the increasing student population, and invested in as holiday lets for the large local tourist industry. As a consequence, prices are high and young people cannot afford to buy. New social housing is needed by this group to allow them to live in the local community as well as work here. Salaries in tourism and related services are not high and affordable housing is needed to allow local economies to thrive.

  3. Planning for infrastructure is very important but it needs some ‘joined-up thinking’ where different departments and management groups work together. For example, St Andrews desperately needs a transport and traffic development plan to take account of the new and proposed developments in the town. Road traffic is increasing by 2% per year, yet no traffic plans are in place post 2016, despite some major developments such as a new hotel and a Marks and Spencer and a huge area of proposed development to the west of the town (the Western Expansion in the Local Plan) where 1000 new houses are planned along with university developments and services. Major proposals are supposedly in the pipeline to change many junctions along the main road in the town from the bus station to the hospital to allow traffic to access a school proposed on the wrong side of the town for 66% of its pupils.

  4. (i) There should be more scrutiny of planning applications where local authorities are both the proposer of the development and the decision maker, especially where the proposed development is very large or locally contentious and conflicts with the Local Plan. This kind of situation should automatically be ‘called-in’ by the Scottish Government, and referred to the Department of Planning and Environmental Appeals to bring some objectivity and transparency to the process.
    (ii) Scotland has an enormous number of very important historical buildings which not only form part of our heritage but attract large numbers of visitors, from whom revenue can be generated. We have more than out share in St Andrews and historic tourism is very important. Local authorities must look for innovative ways of conserving such heritage rather than being able to sell off these premises with no guarantee of future custodianship. For example, when a new secondary school is built in St Andrews, the University should be allowed to take over the iconic South Street Bell building of Madras College to keep it in educational use as prescribed by its founder, Dr Andrew Bell in 1833.

  5. It has become apparent in the process of the planning application for the development of a new secondary school in St Andrews that robust principles have not been in place and decisions have been made by large numbers of councillors who are neither skilled in planning matters nor knowledgeable enough to make a reasoned decision. They might not have had the time to read through all the documents about a proposal – in which case they should not be voting. Councillor education on planning issues is fragmentary and superficial.

  6. Community engagement is vital for local people to feel a sense of ownership and pride in their communities. This does not always happen e.g. the new TayPlan for this area was not showcased in St Andrews but in Cupar. Local Community Councils could play a greater part in community engagement and children in secondary schools could be taught more about their local area and ‘how it works’. It is only possible to improve the presently negative public perception of the planning system if local people are involved and valued. They are more often than not ignored.

The environment of Scotland is very special. We have many different wonderful landscapes. About only a third of the land is suitable for agriculture and all of this needs to be carefully conserved as it not only provides us with our food but also with the raw materials for many of our industries and exports and therefore employment. We should not be building on Prime Agricultural Land any more but looking for innovative ways to improve our agricultural production to reduce imports. Designated Green Belts and other environmentally protected areas should be strictly observed. There are plenty of brown field sites on which development could and should take place. Where Green Belt land and Prime Agricultural Land is proposed for built development, such development should be strictly evaluated with a more robust presumption against it.

The environment of North East Fife is essentially a rural one, and STEPAL was set up to try and play a part in the protection of this environment. We have recently obtained charitable status and have responded to several local planning applications, many of which are proposed for the Green Belt which took 20 years to get put in place. Planning Services should recognise the value of our landscape and help protect it and most of all, listen to the local people who live and work here.

Yours sincerely,

Sandra Thomson, Secretary, STEPAL.

Contact Details:

Association Chairman
Association Secretary
Association Treasurer