We’d like to thank the community for their patience and understanding since the second public meeting on December 5 when the 200+ people present voted by a decisive majority to reject the current proposal for a new visitor centre at the Meedies.
We are sorry the community has been kept in the dark for so long about Fife Council’s plans for the visitor centre, but we have been in the same position.
Following the meeting, we expected to hear from Fife Council that it would be honouring the public promise made by Cllr Hood on November 14 that the centre would not go ahead if the community did not want it after a three-week consultation and a second public meeting.
When we heard nothing, we contacted the leader of Fife Council Councillor David Ross and asked for a meeting. Six of us met Cllr Ross together with Cllr Mark Hood and Raymond Johnston, Fife Council’s Property Services service manager on Tuesday 20th December.
Cllr Ross told us the Council were now considering four options as a result of the public vote, but these did not require public consultation:
Option 1: visitor centre on hold & re-tender golf building. Cost £50k in redesign fees.
Option 2: retain existing visitor centre. Cost £150k.
Option 3: go ahead with golf building without re-tendering so as to keep the Sport Scotland grant of £83k
Option 4: refurbish the golf building
Raymond Johnston offered to explore making further cosmetic changes to the proposed visitor centre such as more windows.
We maintained the position the community voted for in the second public meeting, namely that the current plans for a new visitor centre be dropped, the old visitor centre be reopened and the whole process of designing and funding a new visitor centre start again with the community on board while the sports pavilion goes ahead as a separate development.
Cllr Ross stated that the Benarty community was split on the issue, that the vote at the second public meeting had only been 60:40 in favour and was not representative of the whole community, and that he’d had people telling him they wanted the new building. He was challenged to come up with evidence, but did not produce any. The chairman at the public meeting estimated the vote split at 70:30 and this has been accepted by those present.
Cllr Hood insisted the Lochore Meadows Advisory Board supported the new centre on the basis of a vote in January 2016. We countered that the plans were not even available when the group voted, and that the Advisory Board did not have a mandate to support the new centre through the community councils members represent.
At the meeting of the Advisory Group on 16th December, the representatives from both Lochgelly and Benarty Community Councils abstained because their community councils had not been consulted about the new plans and could not sanction them. As a result the proposal that the Advisory Board supports the new visitor centre did not go through.
We also asked about the investigations promised by Cllr Hood at the first public meeting into the Council’s handling of the application and public consultation, but no information was forthcoming.
In terms of a way forward, Cllr Ross said Fife Council would not attend any further public meetings. He also refused to hold public consultation meetings in Kelty and Lochgelly to allow the communities in these areas to discuss the proposals as Benarty had done in their 3-week consultation period in November.
Pressed on what Fife Council was going to do, Cllr Ross he was “minded to go ahead” with the new centre as planned regardless of public feeling, but this was only “his opinion” and the issue has to go in front of the Executive at Fife Council. He said Fife Council would issue a statement later this week, but refused to allow the Panel to see it before it went to the press.
The Benarty Community Forum and the Lochore Meadows Panel are extremely disappointed that Fife Council has still not agreed to drop current plans for a new visitor centre despite a clear lack of support from community councils, the Lochore Meadows Advisory Panel and the larger Benarty community. Public promises that the project would be stopped if the community didn’t want it seem to count for nothing.
We plan to hold another public meeting in early January to discuss the community’s options following the statement from Fife Council.
Lochore Meadows Panel