Fife councillors reject plans to fill in pond at Prestonhill Quarry

DDR (UK) Limited had been seeking planning permission in principle for a mixed-use development.

Fife councillors reject housing plans for Prestonhill Quarry in Inverkeithing LDRS

Plans to fill in a Fife quarry pond where a number of people have lost their lives in tragic accidents in the last 50 years have been rejected by councillors.

DDR (UK) Limited had been seeking planning permission in principle for a mixed-use development comprising 180 homes, holiday lodges and a cafe/bistro at Prestonhill Quarry in Inverkeithing.

Central to the developer’s vision for the site was a commitment to fill in a deep water-filled void on the quarry floor which has been the scene of four fatal accidents between 1973 and 2017 – three resulting from misadventure by under-19s and the other a 36-year-old diver engaged in an organised diving activity.

But while planners felt the application was of sufficient quality to be approved, members of Fife Council’s central and west planning committee went against their recommendation and voted 7-4 to refuse consent.

Councillor David Coleman, who moved refusal, said: “Something needs to be done on this site but this isn’t it.

“This is not sympathetic to the area and, while I do recognise the tragedies that have occurred, and god forbid it doesn’t happen again, I do think something better needs to come forward.”

Councillor John Beare, who seconded the motion to refuse, said the management of the site had been “nothing short of deplorable” and added: “There may be a proposal that could be considered on this site but I don’t believe this is it.”

The former dolerite quarry, which lies adjacent to the eastern edge of Inverkeithing, is partly naturally regenerated and is used as informal recreation space by the residents of both Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay and visitors to the Fife Coastal Path.

The water-filled void, which is around 11m-deep in places, has also been used over a number of years by divers as a training venue, although videos taken by divers over the years show the extent of illegal dumping that has taken place in the quarry pond, with items ranging from old tyres and trolleys to sunken boats and vehicles.

It has been the source of huge concern locally over the years, in particular when tragedy has struck.

Twelve-year-old Robert O’Neil fell to his death at the quarry in 1973, and there were a further two fatalities there in the space of ten months.

Cameron Lancaster, 18, from Burntisland, drowned in August 2014, while John McKay, 18, from Kirkcaldy, also lost his life in June 2015.

Then in July 2017, the body of Kelda Henderson, 36, was recovered from the water.

The Edinburgh drama teacher, who worked at George Heriot’s, had been scuba diving in the quarry pond and failed to resurface.

Despite the fatal accidents, there has been a significant swell of opposition to the redevelopment plans and 162 letters of objection were submitted to the council.

Noting DDR’s contention that there is a serious issue of criminal and anti-social behaviour associated with the quarry area, Mary Farrell, chair of the Inverkeithing Trust, described that argument as “weak” and with “little merit”.

“Arguably, the action to prevent the anti-social incidents should be through implementing other appropriate/security measures,” she said.

“If it is accepted that crime should not pay, then criminal or anti-social behaviour cannot be an argument for the development of 180 houses.”

A spokesperson for the Royal Burgh of Inverkeithing Community Council also said the results of a survey conducted locally suggested 81% of respondents were against the proposal, while 70% were against the quarry pool being filled in.

“In representing the people of the town’s opinion and for the reasons set out, Inverkeithing Community Council state it is firmly opposed to this development,” the spokesperson added.

“There are clear and material planning grounds for refusal by Fife Council and should they do otherwise the Local Development Plan process would be rendered meaningless.”

However, while case officer Martin McGroarty said he “wholeheartedly” understood the community’s attachment to the asset as a beauty spot, he suggested it was “only by the grace of god” that no-one had been killed by rock fall at the abandoned quarry.

He also noted that the plans still needed work, and that more detailed planning applications would be forthcoming for consideration further down the line to address a number of issues still outstanding – such as affordable housing, environmental impacts and lorry movements.

But he added: “If this is approved, it will keep alive the prospect of an acceptable development while also removing a significant and ongoing hazard at the same time.”

Councillor Andrew Verrecchia lodged an amendment calling for the application to be approved as per recommendations, and that was seconded by councillor Bobby Clelland.

Nonetheless, Mr Coleman and Mr Beare’s motion to refuse was voted through.

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