‘Golfing elite’ accused of blocking visitor centre

An artist's impression of the proposed visitor's centre at the West Sands, St Andrews
An artist's impression of the proposed visitor's centre at the West Sands, St Andrews
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PLANS to build a visitor centre at one of Scotland’s most famous beaches have been rejected over concerns that it would 
offend golfers at St Andrews’ Old Course.

The sand dune-shaped building, described as iconic and radical, would have housed a visitor centre, a cafe and toilet block on the West Sands in St Andrews. A new lifeguard station, recreational area and boardwalk were also to be created.

Yesterday, the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust, which put forward the proposals, said that councillors had rejected the opportunity to replace “third-world facilities” for the public in favour of the “golfing elite”.

Fife Council’s decision to deny planning consent for the trust’s ambitious development means the loss of cash from several sources including £1.3 million from a Coastal Communities Fund in the last year such funds were available.

Chief executive of Fife and Coast Countryside Trust, Amanda McFarlane, and Tom Morton, the architect behind the rejected design, criticised the decision.

Mr Morton, of Arc Architects, said the debate focused on how the development might disturb the view of golfers even though it would have been hidden behind a five-metre dune.

He said: “There was no discussion of the benefits of the project in improving management of the beach and public safety, the educational facilities for schoolchildren, the support it would have given to local volunteer groups and businesses, and the new jobs created by a £1.6m improvement in public facilities for visitors to the beach.

“This decision means that St Andrews is destined for the foreseeable future to have extensive luxury facilities for the golfing elite looking out over decrepit, third-world facilities for the general public.”

Ms McFarlane said she was “gutted” by the outcome. She added: “We now have to go back to our funders and tell them we don’t want their £1.6m.”

The 32ft double bowl-shaped centre was designed to look like overlapping waves or dunes.

The design and size of the proposed visitor centre was deemed unacceptable partly because of the impact on views for golfers on the adjacent Old Course – the oldest golf course in the world.

In an objection sent to Fife Council, St Andrews Links Trust CEO Euan Loudon said: “Aspects of this development have the potential to damage the authenticity and reputation of the golf course experience.”

The final say fell to St Andrews councillor and former Fife provost Frances Melville, as the committee was split 50-50 and her casting vote blackballed the 9.5 metre-high building, which planning officers described as striking and unique.

Cupar councillor Bryan Poole tried to persuade the committee to approve the “radical” design.

Mr Poole said: “The mistake would be to look at it from the point of view of golfers because it is for people using the beach.

“I really think it is a radical design. It will replace two pretty decrepit buildings which are of no value at all.”

He was backed by Councillor Donald Lothian, who said a “leap of faith” was required.

Although she admitted there was a need for new facilities, Mrs Melville highlighted the many tournaments staged at the Old Course, which is due to host the British Open again next year, and said other buildings in the “flattish” landscape were “not very high”.