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St. Andrews Seaside Sauna Inspires Debate

Fife Council is considering the development of a seaside sauna made from a shipping container on the Bruce Embankment in St Andrews. Judith Dunlop, a businesswoman and yoga instructor, proposed the plan after previous success with a sauna at Elie Harbour in the East Neuk of Fife. In response to the proposal, Fife Council accepted comments from the community up until 15 September 2023 with mixed responses; some supporting the health benefits and others worried over the negative scenic impact.


Progress Planning Consultancy Ltd, issuing a statement on behalf of Mrs. Dunlop, said, “The site location offers a flat and stable platform on which to site the unit, close to the beach and waterfront and amenities that include the public toilets, car park, and food and entertainment facilities. The aim, shared by the applicant and the Trust, is that such an operation will enhance tourism and recreation opportunities in St Andrews, and complement the existing businesses and activities that operate there currently, including Blown Away.”


Progress Planning also detailed the proposed external appearance of timber cladding and a rubber flat roof, intended to compliment the more modern buildings in the surrounding area. The structure would incorporate a covered entrance for changing with the inside featuring an Aspen wood interior heated by a log burning sauna stove. The sauna, which could hold 10 to 12 people at capacity, would provide views of West Sands through a large, double glazed window.


As the designer-maker for the previous sauna at Elie Harbour, James Maclean and his business, Wild Refuge, are undertaking planning for the new project.


While discussing the relevance of St Andrews’ cold climate in the plan, Wild Refuge said, “A sauna by the sea could provide an excellent solution to this problem, offering a cosy and relaxing space where people can warm up and unwind while taking in the beautiful coastal views. 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.”


The Elie Seaside Sauna website advertises its health benefits as improved breathing, reduced muscle soreness, improved joint movement, relaxation away from screens, and pure enjoyment.


Many members of the public chose to submit their comments to Fife Council in response to the planning application.


One member of the public, Elizabeth Tobon, said, “Having been a regular user of Elie Sauna over the past year, I fully support the opportunity for another to be available for public use in St Andrews. The health benefits that the sauna (public seat sessions) has given me cannot be overstated. For both mental and physical health, the mix of using the sauna and dipping in the sea once a week is so valuable and the more opportunities available to the general public the better for their health.”


A comment from Alice Dryscale, highlighted another benefit: “Seaside saunas are a celebration of the region’s coastal heritage, and provide a wonderfully diverse and impactful experience for the wild swimming community and many more beyond.”


However, other members of the community disagreed with this development due to its effect on the scenic environment. Dr. Alan Scott told Fife Council, “A shipping container, however dressed, is not appropriate for such an iconic landscape.”


Emma Cochrane said, “Please do not allow this monstrosity to spoil the views of the beach and West Sands. We directly look over this area and it is a nonsense to allow something new and so commercial (with very limited benefits for the general public) to interrupt the views and change the enjoyment of many who enjoy this area - this only benefits the individual who owns this and hopes to site it in this location.”


Some were not opposed to the concept in general, but merely the location.


Dr. Louise Stenhouse said, “This is not an appropriate site for the intended sauna. This area of the car park/West Sands is used almost constantly by a variety of people. It is a well-used and favoured spot for tourists to view the beach and take their holiday photos. It is also a point of easy access for families with young children and dog owners onto the small area of sand to play. To compare the vast numbers of people who currently use this area with the amount who would be able to do so if a sauna was constructed, it seems detrimental to many for an advantage to only a few.”


To solve this issue, Michael Serup, another member of the public, suggested, “While it’s a nice idea to have a sauna by the sea, there are much more suitable locations for it. Most wild swimmers use the East Sands, and it could be sited near the beach. The West Sands as well, are quite long and [the beach] has many locations where this could be placed along it.”


Fife Council has not yet made a decision. But St Andrews residents may soon find a new attraction near the beach, whether on the Bruce Embankment or elsewhere.


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