The North East Planning Committee met at Council Chambers in Cupar on 12th October to consider a renewed application from CAF Properties for a 38 bed care home at 92 Hepburn Gardens. This care home would absorb the nineteen twenties Arts and Craft house at this address into the new build care facility for elderly people.
A planning application for the same site had previously been refused by the committee and this decision had been confirmed on appeal by a government reporter. Both the Committee and the Reporter had been concerned about the adverse affect this development would have had on the Hepburn Gardens Conservation Area, and it’s potential to adversely affect residential amenity. The new application before the committee claimed to have dealt with the issues which caused the previous application to be refused, and the report before the Committee recommended that the amended application be granted.
The planning report stated that:
“A total of 499 valid individual comments were received by the Planning Authority from third parties, including 437 support comments and 62 objections.”
This caused Councillor Tony Miklinski to question the tactics used by the developers to collect the support comments. He noted that it had been reported that the many of these support statements had been collected by a PR company on behalf of the developer, GI Group. Press reports had noted that GI Group wished to take over a vacated Gibson House and turn it into a “Scotsman Hotel” on it’s relocation to 92 Hepburn Gardens. The St Andrews Citizen carried a report which stated:
“A new Scotsman Hotel at Argyle House can only happen if we receive planning consent for the development of 92 Hepburn Gardens” (The Citizen, 19 July 2019, quoting Managing Director Stefan King of G1 Group).
While the method of gathering the 437 support comments varied, it was reported that many had been collected from people stopped on the street to obtain their statements. These apparently were then translated into support comments and sent in bulk to the planning website all arriving at about the same time.
Councillor Miklinski questioned whether this method of harvesting planning representations was compatible with a planning process which should be based on material considerations, and asked officials to review the process. The formal advice from Fife Council website on planning representations states:
“Before you submit your comments we would advise that you view the full application. To ensure that your comments are considered as part of the decision making process they must be relevant. i.e. a Material Consideration.”
A review of the 437 support comments carried out by a Hepburn Gardens resident revealed that many of the comments were repetitive and generally supported the building of modern care facilities, but most were not specific to the Hepburn Gardens site, or showed little or no knowledge of the planning issues relevant to the application.
The relevance of the support comments was a also a concern of other Councillors and Cllr Linda Holt quoted a Residents’ Association email which she had received, which said that “Such behaviour by a developer brings the planning system into disrepute and damages the reputation of Fife Council, if such representations are accepted uncritically, as in this case. She indicated that it was difficult to disagree with this statement. The way these figures were reported in the planning report suggested that there was overwhelming public support for the specific plans for 92 Hepburn Gardens, when this did not appear to be the case. Everyone would support better facilities for elderly people requiring care, but the matter under discussion was the suitability of this particular site for the development proposed for it.
In response the Senior Planning Officer present said that the Council was obliged to accept such representations and that they were regarded as valid because they were received within the prescribed time-scale. It was up to individual councillors to decide the planning merits of such representations. However, it was not explained how councillors could trawl through almost 500 individual representations to categorise their relevance, or why such an assessment was not made in the planning report which is intended to summarise the information for the decision-making councillors.
Discussion on the merits of the application centred on whether sufficient changes had been made from the previous application to merit it’s approval. Contributions from members of the Committee recognised that an effort had been made to mitigate some of the matters which had caused refusal on the last occasion, but many issues remained and the unsuitability of the proposal for this site was still a major issue.
Councillors voted eight to three to reject the application on grounds, mainly regarding the adverse affect on the Conservation Area, and Residential Amenity, which were summed up by the Committee Legal Advisor, Stephen Paterson, from a motion to refuse from Cllr Dominic Nolan and seconded by Cllr. Tony Miklinski. Councilor Tim Brett proposed an amendment to approve the application, but his motion obtained only three votes. The detailed reasons for the Committee’s refusal are reproduced below.
St Andrews QV notes that modern practice attempts to plan a range of care facilities for elderly people in the same location so that the residents can retain contacts and friendships as they need greater degrees of care. Care villages are being developed in a number of East Fife communities to respond to this need, but the Council has said that it has no such plans for St Andrews.
Fife Council – Extract from Decision Notice
REFUSE FOR THE FOLLOWING REASON(S):
- The Application Proposal, by virtue of the significantly adverse impact on the Hepburn Gardens Conservation Area and the appearance of the existing property, fails to comply with Scottish Planning Policy (Valuing the Historic Environment) (2014); Historic Environment Scotland Historic Environment Policy for Scotland (2019); Policies 1 and 14 of the adopted FIFEplan (2017); the Hepburn Gardens Conservation Appraisal and Management Plan (2010); and the St Andrews Design Guidelines (2011).
- In the interests of preserving residential amenity; the Application Proposal would have an adverse impact on the residential amenity arising from the proposed use of the Application Site. The Application Proposal, by virtue of the nature of the proposed development would cause noise and disturbance to the detriment of the occupiers of the adjoining/nearby residential properties and other surrounding residents introducing an impact on residential amenity not currently experienced as also introducing a loss of amenity to neighbouring properties resulting from the scale and height of the Application Proposal. The Application Proposal is therefore contrary to Policies 1 and 10 of the adopted FIFEplan (2017).
- In the interests of protecting visual amenity; the Application Proposal would result in an overdevelopment of the Application Site having regard to its scale, massing and design as well as having a character and appearance which are not in keeping with the surrounding area/streetscape. Further, and by virtue of the form, scale, design and standard of architecture, the Application Proposal does not make a positive contribution to the surrounding townscape, immediate environment and built environmental quality. The Application Proposal is therefore contrary to Scottish Planning Policy (2014); Policy 2 of the constituted TAYplan Strategic Development Plan (2017); Policies 1, 2, 10 and 14 of the adopted FIFEplan (2017); the adopted Making Fife’s Places Supplementary Planning Guidance (2018); and the St Andrews Design Guidelines (2011).