Fresh talks over the site of Madras college to be held

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One of the two Madras College buildings in St Andrews. Credit: James Allen
One of the two Madras College buildings in St Andrews. Credit: James Allen

A fresh round of talks is currently being held over the location of Madras College’s new building, a decade-long debate that has “been heart-breaking and divisive” for community stakeholders. Disagreements regarding the approval of the £40 million project pertain to the various sites proposed. The University is collaborating with Fife Council officers regarding proposed sites.

A spokeswoman for the University said that the council “has indicated it will carry out a review of all possible school sites in St Andrews” and that the University is “talking with council colleagues in support of that process.”

At meetings held by the Fife Council Executive Committee in May and August, “Council officers have been given a remit to review all of the potential sites for a new Madras College,” likely in December, according to St Andrews councillor, Brian Thomson.

He went on to say, “The main thing is to get a decision on a favoured site as soon as possible, particularly as the local Council elections are coming up in May 2017, and key decisions are often put on hold in the run-up to such elections.

“Given the condition of the current buildings, and the desperate need for a new school, every effort should be made to avoid any further delay.

“It’s also worth highlighting that the longer this matter drags on, there will likely be pressure from some quarters to revisit the hugely unpopular option of refurbishing and extending the 1960s Kilrymont Road building that’s located on the south-east edge of the town. I hope that such an outcome—something I could not support – can be avoided, and that the current exercise will lead to the construction of a long-awaited new school in the shortest timescale possible,” Mr Thomson concluded.

Parent Voice activists have campaigned extensively for a 30-acre spot on Pipeland Farm, but opposition by St Andrews Environment Protection Association Limited (STEPAL) regarding the site’s infringement on the green belt surrounding the town has stifled progress.

Continuous mediation by the Fife Council and the University has recently “raised hopes” for a breakthrough in discussion that could deliver the College’s already designed plans into the construction phase. Currently, Madras College rests on two separate sites.

The search for a larger, single campus has been of importance to Parent Voice, which argues that the site in the countryside not only “avoids over 1000 staff journeys per week between Kilrymont and South Street,” but is already “adjacent to existing housing,” and therefore well-suited to students independently commuting to school.

The new site, then, is seen to promise better attendance and education, and has been signed-on by Willie Rennie, the Northeast Fife’s Member of Scottish Parliament.

STEPAL, for its part, argues that the “site for the new school must be selected according to planning policy, not educational need.” To that end, it has pursued legal action to halt the property’s acquisition.

The proposed site at Pipeland would sit in the green belt around the town. STEPAL advocates for the consideration of other sites that do not break with St Andrews’ building and environmental policies. Along with STEPAL, the St Andrews Preservation Trust denounces the proposal, arguing that “if the council does build the new school there, the trust considers that school users, neighbouring residents, hospital users, citizens of St Andrews and the public at large will be subject to serious inconvenience, nuisance and safety risks.

“Further, the development will blight the amenity of neighbours and patients and the appearance of the southern hillside; it would also set a precedent for development sprawl inthe green belt.”

As a result of court proceedings brought by STEPAL, Madras has encountered great difficulty  securing the land for the building. STEPAL’s successful objection “frustrated many in the town who hoped that construction of the replacement school would begin shortly.”

Fife Council provided planning permission to Madras in May 2014, but further appeals by STEPAL led to a hearing in Scotland’s supreme civil court this past March. Presiding Lord Malcom described the approach taken by the Council as “erroneous.”

Reacting, a member of Parent Voice described the “small old guard” as seeing preserving 0.5 per cent of the Greenbelt “as more important than the education and wellbeing of our children and have condemned our children to many more years of appalling conditions.”

This past January, the University discussed a land swap with the Council for land at Langlands, “although those negotiations faltered over valuations,” as the Council would have been giving away over 10 times more than it received.

Nonetheless, a campus on the Langlands near the University sports pitches “received overwhelming support from those on all sides of the debate.”

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