Residents were left with more questions than answers at the latest public meeting to discuss the Lochore Meadows Visitor Centre fiasco after Fife Council officers failed to attend, a move described as scandalous by a senior Fife Councillor.
Councillor Mark Hood branded Fife Council officers behaviour “scandalous” at the packed public meeting after they failed to attend. Residents were informed that council officers had received notification from their line managers that they shouldn’t attend. Fear of being recorded and lack of “control” were two reasons cited for the lack of attendance.
Author John Drummond chaired the meeting and was joined at the table by community representatives Michael O’Hare and Lorna Bett. Chief Executive Chris Broome and park manager Iain Laing represented the Fife Coast & Countryside Trust. Representation for the council was provided by councillors Mark Hood and Alex Campbell.
With over 200 residents in attendance, park manager Mr Laing presented the proposals that had previously been approved on the 18th November 2016 under a delegated decision by Fife Council, and which had been put out to tender on 7th September 2016.
Residents were given the option of choosing the colour of the cladding, despite earlier assurances from councillors at the public meeting on 14th November 2016 that residents could make significant changes to improve the current plans.
A Q&A session followed in which residents were able to question councillors over the perceived failings of the design aesthetics, costs and handling of the consultation process.
Strong concerns were raised over the time-scales for the tendering of the contract and demands were made for details of the awardee. A lengthy discussion ensued with much conflicting information.
Initially, it was denied that the contract had been awarded, despite the contract for tender being made available through Public Contracts Scotland with a deadline of 14th October 2016.
It finally emerged that the contract had been tendered and approved with Purvis Group the winner, although Councillor Hood stated that “the legals” were still to be finalised.
A recent Freedom of Information request seeking clarity over the tendering process has proved fruitless. Fife Council rejected the FOI response, stating:
“This information remains commercially sensitive at present as the tender process is not complete. Information is exempt under section 33(1)(b) if its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially the commercial interests of any person.”
The time-line and process for the tender remains unclear.
While the consultation process was challenged, Fife Council did send notification of the planning application for the new Visitors’ Centre in the ‘Weekly Update of Development Applications’ published on the 13th June 2016 and distributed via email as a PDF file. The application is listed on page 40.
It is unclear if the emails were sent to the local community councils and if they were it was during a time that most community councils were on holiday, may not have noticed the planning application and would not have had an opportunity to discuss it within the statutory time-limit.
With such a major planning application for an area so close to the heart of neighbouring communities, it would be reasonable to expect an officer from Fife Council to attend local community council meetings to give a presentation. This did not happen for Benarty, Lochgelly or Kelty community councils.
MSP Annabelle Ewing raised several questions, asking if an earlier promise by councillors of additional financial support would be honoured. It was confirmed by Councillors Hood and Campbell that £50,000 could be provided to help towards any changes requested.
MSP Ewing raised a further issue over a lack of response from Councillor David Ross (leader of the administration) and Steve Grimmond (Chief Executive for Fife Council) to her previous communications.
The lack of response Ewing received echoed the experience of the community group that was formed and tasked to look at issues with the proposed centre: Fife Council officers they had invited to the meeting had not even had the courtesy to decline their invitations.
Councillor Hood was quizzed on this given that he had given assurances at the previous meeting that no work would start to demolish the building prior to any agreements with the local communities. Councillor Hood responded that the asbestos removal was “preliminary”.
Further concern was raised that Fife Council started this “preliminary” work as part of the demolition process prior to the planning application gaining approval under delegated powers on 18th November 2016.
This was decisively rejected by a majority of residents who called out councillors, Fife Council and Fife Coast & Countryside Trust for their lack of ambition and vision for the Meedies.
With many issues remaining unanswered, the chair proposed a vote and attendees were presented with a range of options to vote on.
The first vote asked those present if they supported the plans for the golf and football facilities to be progressed as separate developments from the visitor centre. The majority agreed.
The second vote asked whether the current proposals for the visitor centre should be supported or rejected. A clear majority voted to reject the current plans.
With the football and golf facilities gaining public support as a separate proposal and the visitor centre rejected, councillors and Fife Council will need to clarify publicly how they intend to rectify past mistakes whilst progressing a public engagement and design process that will capture the ambitions Benarty and other local communities have for the Meedies.