St Andrews Planning Dispute Makes Legal History

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Credit: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/347469

A St Andrews planning dispute has made legal history. The Supreme Court’s recent decision to grant St Andrews resident Penny Uprichard a protective costs order is probably the first such award in a Scottish case, and may help trigger a change in the law.

Currently members of the public who take developers and government bodies to court can be liable for their opponents’ legal fees if they fail to win their case. The Scottish Government has just completed a consultation about whether this should be altered.

Ministers suggest that in cases concerning environmental matters there should be a cap on the legal costs a losing party may be made to pay. Earlier this month the Faculty of Advocates (the professional body to which all Scottish advocates belong) gave their backing to the scheme, although they recommended the policy should be broadened to include all cases affecting the public interest.

The dispute between Uprichard and Fife Council has highlighted the huge costs local campaigners can face when taking government bodies to court. Before the protective costs order was awarded to Uprichard by the UK Supreme Court, the Court of Session in Edinburgh had ruled that she must pay £118,000 to cover the expense of Scottish ministers and Fife Council opposing her case.

The protective costs order means Uprichard will probably now only be liable for £6,000 of her opponents’ legal fees, although she will still have to pay her own costs (which is estimated to amount to more than £50,000).

Uprichard commenced legal proceedings against Fife Council regarding the proposed development of the western edge of St Andrews. In May 2009 the Fife Structure Plan was approved which gave permission for a thousand new houses, a science park, and a bypass on university owned fields near Andrew Melville Hall and David Russell Apartments.

Uprichard believes that this expansion “will overwhelm St Andrews”. She argues that beautiful surroundings are an asset to the town, stating yesterday that “tourism is our main industry. Tourists don’t come to see little boxes.”

In particular Uprichard is concerned that Fife Council has not taken sufficiently into account the objections made by local residents to the proposed western extension to St Andrews.

According to Uprichard there were thousands of objections to the Fife Structure Plan, many specifically about the western extension of St Andrews. She claims these were largely disregarded by officials, and that as a result “really the only option was to take legal action”. Speaking in an interview with The Saint, Uprichard said that the court proceedings had been “a long slog” but she had benefitted from “a lot of support”.

Uprichard initially lodged a legal challenge to the Fife Structure Plan in July 2009 in the Outer Court of Session in Edinburgh. Since then she has pursued her case in the Inner Court of Session, which decided in favour of Fife Council and Scottish ministers. However, she has not yet given up her struggle and in 2013 the dispute will come before the United Kingdom Supreme Court.

Uprichard admits that at times “the campaign has been very difficult”, but she still believes “it was the right thing to do”.

Representatives from St Andrews University (which has been lobbying for the western extension) take a different line. A spokesman argues that there is “an urgent need in St Andrews for additional housing”.

Yesterday the spokesman stated that, “You cannot simply pickle St Andrews in aspic”, and he maintains that planning policy in St Andrews should not “be a case of only listening to those who shout loudest”.

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