Response to Review of Planning 2015
with comments on a selection of the suggested questions
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
Sandra Thomson, Secretary, STEPAL.