‘Saving St Andrews’ is a campaign which supports Penny Uprichard’s legal challenge against the Fife Structure Plan. Penny Uprichard, a local resident in St Andrews, made the courageous decision to take the Scottish Government and Fife Council to court, after plans approved the development of a ‘Western Extension’ in St Andrews. The extension was proposed by a consortium, including the University of St Andrews, Headon Developments and Montgomery Forgan. It aims to accommodate at least 1000 houses, a science park, business park and two neighbourhood centres with shops. The total number of houses planned could increase the permanent houses population by over 20%. There are currently 6,400 houses in St Andrews. Despite the enormity of this development and the huge impact it will have on the town, many people may not be aware.
What may be more surprising is that I, as a student at the University, am firmly against it. My objections are in agreement with the basis for the legal challenge – in defence of the western extension, Scottish Ministers cited ‘The Alison Grant Study’, commissioned by Fife Council and published in 2003. It indicated that ‘some scope for further development to the west of St Andrews exists subject to mitigation.’ This recommendation was used to justify the ‘Western extension’, ignoring the fact that it completely defies it. Whilst the study only identifies an area of about 22 hectares suitable for ‘limited low level development’, the ‘Western Extension’ would require 110 hectares. The recommendations of the study aim to protect the historic landscape setting of our beautiful town, which the structure plan itself recognises is of ‘national and international importance’. This study did not stand alone, as a similar conclusion was reached in the ‘Tydesley landscape assessments’. The Structure Plan received 2,426 objections – an unprecedented number.
Despite all this evidence against developing in ‘St Andrews West’, the plans have been approved. Whilst all the objections were supposedly ‘considered’, they had little effect on the plan, so may as well have been completely ignored. What is the point having systems of local democracy, such as the right to respond to consultation, if they are simply overridden? We are left in a position where our town is threatened with over-development, despite the studies commissioned to prevent it and it seems there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. If that is not a totalitarian system, I don’t know what is.
One might assume that Scottish Ministers were forced to make the difficult decision to sacrifice the beautiful skyline which carries the very spirit of St Andrews, for the greater good of our town – but I think not. The plans are highly exploitative and are motivated by profit-led development at the expense of St Andreans, the silenced majority. The plans aim to make St Andrews an ‘economic driver for the whole of Fife’, a vision by Fife Council which is seriously misguided. Our town is expected to accept a population increase that is 12% greater than the rest of Fife, despite St Andrews having the most sensitive landscape and already suffering from overcrowding. This is not a case of opposing necessary development – there are many brown-field sites which could be used before the landscape setting needs to be further damaged. I would not advocate opposing appropriate development, it would certainly be good for the University if they could expand and the shortage of affordable housing in St Andrews is becoming unmanageable – however the ‘Western Extension’ is highly inappropriate and is funded by greed. Despite the studies and substantial number of objections, our precious landscape is going to be overwhelmed by a massive development, because this is where the developers can make the most money.
What these developers have failed to grasp is that the more they destroy our precious landscape setting the less desirable St Andrews will be. It is not all a question of aesthetics either, for the infrastructure of the town will be put under unbearable pressure with such a large increase in population.
This is not just a question of where to put houses, this is about our right and responsibility as proud citizens of St Andrews to protect 800 years of history. So many old towns have lost their traditional appeal under the destruction of modern developments. However, the largest issue to consider is the attack on local democracy which this represents – although I am horrified by the decision itself, the manner in which it was decided is just as frightening.