Today (23rd November 2016) councillors from the West Area Planning Committee are being asked to rubber-stamp controversial plans for a closed-loop cycle track in the Glencraig area.

The application, which is being made by Fife Council, has been recommended for Conditional Approval by a Fife Council case officer despite various objections by Glencraig residents and an outstanding objection by SEPA that the area is at risk from flooding.

The plans also faced earlier criticism from Fife Council’s department, Structural Services – Harbours Flood & Coast. They responded to the planning application on 4th August saying
“insufficient information has been provided to demonstrate that the proposals meet the requirements of Fife Council in terms of flood risk, and further clarification is required.”

With no answer from the applicant, Harbours Flood & Coast re-sent the 4th August response on 3 November.

However, by 10th November the Harbours, Flood & Coast team had updated their position with an email saying, “The developer acknowledges that flooding may occur within the site and assumed prepared [sic] to accept the risk….. the proposals can be categorized as low vulnerability and therefore acceptable”.

With Fife Council’s inhouse engineer at Structural Services prepared to offer hesitant support to the application, the planning case officer Fife Council then chose to dismiss the unresolved objection from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency:

“SEPA has indicated that the site is developable for the proposed use, however they have unresolved objections due to a lack of information on flooding, drainage and water quality. However, given that Harbours, Flood and Coast are now satisfied, it is considered that these concerns can be resolved prior to permission being granted.”

Members of the public also raised objections against the so-called business case, which was presented by Councillor Mark Hood and Fife Council as a means of garnering support for the project. In particular, they questioned the claim that the application would financially benefit the local community of Lochgelly.

Again the case officer dismissed these objections. His report states:

“While the wider economic benefits of the development for the surrounding locality may be taken into account in a planning decision, the applicant is not required to demonstrate these benefits to make their proposal acceptable in planning terms.”

Councillor Hood has also been criticised in the community for misleading the public on this application. In particular he claimed publicly “all three local community councils have supported the project”, and at a Lochgelly Community Council meeting that “there was significant support for the project across the town, there had been only 6 objections most of them from people outwith the area.”

The councillor felt able to make these statements even though there were no letters of support from residents or community councils registered on the website for the application, and that the objections were made by residents at Glencraig who will be directly adjacent to the proposed cycle track. A community site for Lochore suggests the community there has been largely unaware of the development.

Councillor Hood also publicly denied the objection by SEPA, claiming “SEPA have only requested additional information and have not ruled out the application”. This is at the very least disingenuous, given the official response from SEPA on the Fife planning website:

“We object to the proposed development on the grounds that it may place buildings and persons at flood risk contrary to Scottish Planning Policy”

The case officer’s report recommends approval despite noting the following breaches to policy:

  • Does not comply with any of the land uses prescribed for the Lochgelly Strategic Development Area in which it is located
  • As a facility that will be used for commercial leisure uses, it is subject to the sequential test under policy B6 of the Adopted Local Plan and proposed FIFEplan policy 6, yet Fife Council has failed to “demonstrate the site’s compliance with the sequential test.”
  • The scale of this planting falls some way short of the identified Green Network Opportunity to establish a high quality landscape edge along the northern perimeter of the SDA which crosses the site.
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One Comment

  1. Rob

    November 23, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    So this is an application for a development part-funded, drawn up and run by Fife Council, which Fife Council is examining, assessing for flood risk and now deciding? Isn’t there a wee bit of a conflict of interest*?

    Doesn’t look good when at the eleventh hour Fife Council’s inhouse engineer overrides expert advice from the statutory independent assessor for flood risk (SEPA) – this is one reason why SEPA exists and Councils are required to consult SEPA so self-interest doesn’t tempt Councils to cut corners on risk assessment.

    Why couldn’t the applicant Fife Council come up with the missing info on flood risk? They had enough time.

    Instead it looks like pressure has been brought to bear on officers so this could be rushed through to committee, and we’re all supposed to be reassured that SEPA’s objection and the need for further clarification has been bypassed because the developer (yes, Fife Council again) is prepared to assume responsibility for the flooding risk. Who exactly will pay when there are floods? It won’t be the officers or the councillors, but you and me.

    Then there’s the lack of consultation and failure to take the communities with you on this. Cllr Hood makes breezy unsubstantiated statements about support and attacks anyone who demurs on social media as wanting to deprive the area of “investment”- yet where is the support? Have community councils even had properly minuted discussions about this?

    The planning case also looks thin. There’s a prima facie breach of the development plan because the the project does not comply with any of the land uses prescribed for the Lochgelly Strategic Development Area. Desperate to find grounds for making an exception to this policy, the case officer argues that the project “will provide one of the key benefits associated with the aforementioned Green Network Priorities by encouraging active
    travel”. It’s hard to imagine how a cycle track will encourage more active travel – the vast majority of people will be serious recreational cyclists who will travel there in their cars. An olympic standard travel track is not going to make more people in Fife cycle to work.

    Then there’s the economic case which Councillor has been touting round the town. No one believes it. People won’t even have to drive through Lochgelly to get to the track, and even if they do, why would they stop?

    Indeed one wonders where the discussion was about how this will be funded in future. It’s touted as a community facility but only people well-enough to pay will be able to use it – surely a consideration in an area of multiple deprivation which has seen foodbank use soar. If entrance fees don’t cover running costs, who will pick up the tab – or will the fees just go up and/or maintenance budgets and opening hours cut?

    Also the “modular” construction and wire fencing means it’s even more likely to look like a prison compound than the proposal for the new Meedies centre. With so much money to play with, you’d think Fife Council could have come up with something properly ‘green’ and attractive which would be a visual enhancement.

    All in all, this looks like a bloated vanity project which risks turning out to be another Council white elephant.

    * The conflict of interest becomes sharper still when one considers this is the pet project of a Labour Councillor which uses funding from the Labour-controlled Fife Council budget. Hood has been promoting this as a Labour goodie for years – surely he’ll be declaring an interest when it comes to the West Planning Committee? And what about his fellow Labour councillors?

    Reply

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