The seal of approval for a £12m revamp of the St Andrews’ Students’ Association has been given the green light despite numerous complaints from locals.
The 1970s building on St Mary’s Place is to undergo external alterations including: the building of a single storey shop in place of the existing recycling centre; new landscaping and street furniture; a reduction of car parking spaces and new signs at the front and side of the building.
Although the St Andrews Preservation Trust has long maintained that the building is an “eyesore,” plans have come under fire from numerous locals.
Peter Davidson, a spokesman for the Architectural Heritage Society said: “This is the conservation area of an historic town, not Wacker Drive,” likening the exterior design to the multi-level street in Chicago surrounded by skyscrapers.
Mr Davidson expressed concerns about the glass frontier of the design. “Townsfolk really don’t want to see what students are doing inside the building. This aspect of the Students’ Union should be left as it is,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Architectural Heritage Trust lambasted the use of coloured laminate on the glass of the new building. “Such use of colour on buildings tends to look cheap and nasty,” she said.
However, in an interview with The Saint, Jules Findlay, Director of Events and Services, stated: “It’s a minority of locals but we all live in the town and we’ve been very careful to talk to people who have had an issue with the glass and explain to them.
“I think it’s about making locals feel involved in the process and let them know what’s happening. Locals seem to have been very happy with the plans once we’ve explained exactly what’s happening.
“With a building of that size right in the middle of town, the fact that there aren’t more complaints is great,” he said.
Findlay also confirmed that the date for the building work to start has been pushed back from December to February/March since the first Court meeting is in December. He said: “We originally intended work to begin in December but the first Court meets in December so it will begin in February.
“We do have planning permission but that’s just the start of the process. The plans now have to go through the St Andrews’ University Planning Committee and then the University
Court,” he added.
“There will be some disruption because we’re planning to put in place a new glass front and they will be installing a coffee shop where BESS is. So, by the summer, there will be a very noticeable difference to the building.”
President of the Students’ Association Freddie Fforde countered the criticism. He said: “The redevelopment of the Union will finally allow our creaking facility to furnish the resources we need to operate the hundreds of student activities that find their home in the building.
“The willingness of the University to invest in student activity also sends a strong message to the best candidates – both home and abroad – that St Andrews continues to be one of the best places to work, live and study.
“It’s important for us to appreciate and respect the town that we live in, while also working towards a compromise that meets the needs of the thousands of students who also call St Andrews home.
“This year the Association will be making a concerted effort to engage with the local community,” he said.
A spokesman for the University also welcomed the granting of planning permission. He said: “We’re very pleased to have obtained planning permission and have long been committed to improving this important building. The Union should be a central part of the St Andrews experience.”
The redevelopment, which is due to be complete by Freshers’ Week of 2013, will include a piazza, a street-facing café and a 600 person capacity nightclub.