DUNFERMLINE councillors were split over a plan to lease common good land to the Alhambra Theatre Trust – and it may become a legal matter.

The trust have submitted a planning application to Fife Council for a new performing arts centre and gained local backing to use an adjacent site on the corner of New Row and Park Avenue.

The 376 square metres of land is currently an ornamental formal garden with flower beds, shrubs and benches, next to the old Watt & Dewar building which they want to convert into the Ironmongers Studio.

It’s across the road from the Alhambra Theatre and would support their ambitious plans but a number of councillors were against the idea and Central Dunfermline Community Council opposed the move.

The plot was gifted to the “City and Royal Burgh of Dunfermline” in 1962 by the Carnegie Dunfermline & Hero Fund Trustees with a prohibition on development in order that it be maintained as open space. The site is held on the Common Good Account.

A report to Tuesday’s City of Dunfermline area committee admitted: “The proposition has both benefits and disbenefits. It will place an area of publicly-accessible land into private control, however, the area is not intensively used and is a locus of anti-social behaviour. In addition, the disposal will reduce maintenance costs to the council and produce income to the Common Good account.

“Disposal of the site will support the redevelopment of the adjacent building to create theatre and performance space, providing an enhanced setting and potentially an area for external performance activities to be undertaken.

“Though there is not universal support for disposal, it is recommended the site be leased to the trust for a minimum of 175 years.”

The recommendation was approved and if passed by another council committee, a final legal decision will be needed. The district valuer would then determine the rent, with the trust agreeing to “a minimum of £1,000” a year.

The report said: “The consent of the sheriff to sell or lease this plot may be required as it is held on the Common Good Account.”

The Alhambra Theatre Trust’s ambitious plans for a new performing arts centre include a state-of-the-art studio theatre with 200 seats, an arthouse cinema and a purpose-built headquarters for the Alhambra Stage and Dance School.

They want to convert the vacant Watt & Dewar premises at 62 New Row into the Ironmongers Studio and the plans include suites of rehearsal rooms, an administration block and retail/restaurant space.

According to the council report, the trust “expressed interest in incorporating the Common Good plot into their redevelopment” and originally wanted to buy.

It would be used as recreation space for theatre school students with the possibility of becoming an outdoor performance area.

The report added: “The trust consider that the area at the moment is underused and they would like to see it incorporated into their stage school and so be brought back into beneficial use.”

As the disposal relates to a common good asset “which occupies a highly-visible site in the town centre”, all of the Dunfermline councillors and Central Dunfermline Community Council (CDCC) were consulted.

The majority were against a sale and a lease was “considered more favourable” but the report added: “Once again, the responses from councillors were mixed though there was a majority view in favour of leasing the site.

"The community council maintained their opposition to the lease of the plot.”