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Full Steam Ahead? New Bid for a Sauna in St Andrews

Updated: Mar 9

A new application to build a sauna in St Andrews has been submitted to Fife Council. The plan is for a wooden mobile sauna, seating up to twelve guests, to be located in a corner of East Sands Leisure Centre car park overlooking the sea near the coastal path. This comes after a previous bid to erect a sauna in St Andrews failed to get approval.


The applicant is Judith Dunlop, a local businesswoman who owns the popular Elie Seaside Sauna. Her original scheme, which sought to situate the sauna at a site in the Golf Museum car park by West Sands, was rejected on the grounds that its “modern design, form, isolated location and use of external finishing materials” were incompatible with safeguarding the visual environment of the conservation area. 


Dunlop’s new application reasserts the benefits a sauna would bring to St Andrews: “In addition to the obvious health benefits of regular sauna use, such a facility could serve as a gathering place for the community, fostering social connections, and promoting wellness. By providing an accessible and unique amenity, a temporary sauna by the sea could enhance the quality of life for residents and visitors alike, while also highlighting the town’s natural beauty and promoting tourism.” 


The original plan was for the sauna to be in a shipping container, but the idea was discarded because the substitute site, further from the sea, does not require the stability provided by a metal structure. The new design, mounted on a trailer, has a log-powered stove and a large, double-glazed window. The planning application states that “every opportunity will be taken to utilise materials derived from local, sustainable and ethically-acceptable sources.”


Dunlop told The Saint, “The design of the sauna is a culmination of extensive research, by myself, that involved travelling to Ireland and to all the Nordic countries.”


She also considers the proposed sauna’s proximity to the Leisure Centre as a great potential benefit for the area:


“[The Leisure Centre and I] could indeed work together, creating a wellness hub, at that end of The East Sands. Indeed, combined with proposed plans for improved facilities at the harbour end of the beach, we are improving the level of facilities on offer at The East Sands overall.”


Additionally, Dunlop argued, “St Andrews and the student population as a whole has much to gain from a sauna sited within easy access of walking, cycling, or public transport, meaning that it is accessible by 'green transport.’” Dunlop continued that she would like to “make sauna access in St Andrews much more diverse and inclusive”, because “saunas break down social barriers and help us alter perceptions of others and ourselves.”


Consultations over the practical implications of the proposal are ongoing. 


Transportation Development Management stated that they have “no objections in principle” to the development subject to the outcome of discussions being held with the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust over the potential impact on the Fife Coastal Path and the loss of parking spaces in the Leisure Centre car park. 


However, the Royal Burgh of St Andrews has raised some concerns, including the environmental impact of the sauna. On this point, Dunlop told The Saint that “the proposed sauna is highly fuel efficient and extremely low particulate-emitting, much less than a domestic stove. [The stove comes] from Finland, where manufacturers are skilled in the design of sauna stoves.” 


As of 29 February, 2024, public comments on the Fife Council website include 50 comments in support, seven objections, and one neutral comment. It remains to be seen what further consultation and what the eventual committee meeting will decide, regarding whether or not St Andrews will have its own sauna. 

Photo by Suzanne Blackwell Photography

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