FIFE COUNCIL need to acquire land for a crucial £14million-plus road in Dunfermline from a company they've been in dispute with. 

Objectors have also slated the location of the new Northern Link Road (NLR) as "little short of crazy", claimed it will create more congestion at Halbeath and said the bridge over the railway element could cost four times as much as their current estimate. 

In addition, there's concern that the dispute is holding up the new Lidl supermarket and M&S Foodhall at Halbeath.

One end of the NLR, to serve new housing estates and divert traffic away from the town centre, is to run from Halbeath Retail Park to the Fife Circle railway line. 

That piece of land is owned by Royal London Mutual Insurance Society, who also own the retail park and last year objected to a planning demand from the council for £703,000 for transport improvements in the area. 

This was one of the conditions for approving an extension to the retail park.

Gordon Harvey, chair of the Halbeath Environmental Improvement Group, said: "The council and Royal London are not on the best of terms. Royal London disputed the figure and appealed to the Scottish Government but withdrew it in December 2017 to await the decision of the council in January 2018 – which they lost.

"The relationship is certainly not harmonious but Royal London are in a strong position as Fife Council have now declared that they absolutely must have that land for the NLR. 

"If you were the landowner and heard that, you'd be rubbing your hands with glee."
Royal London's appeal to the west planning committee, against paying £703,000, was rejected in January 2018.

Mr Harvey said they could still appeal to the Scottish Government and use the fact the council need their land as "negotiating tools", adding: "They have all the levers." 

The council's service manager, Alastair Hamilton, said: "The applicant did not submit an appeal to Scottish ministers against the refusal. Royal London Mutual have the required planning permission to proceed with the extension to the retail park."

The nine-unit extension – which includes Lidl and an M&S Foodhall – was approved in February 2017 but almost two years on, there's been little or no progress and building work is yet to start. 

Asked for an update, Royal London said they "weren't in a position to comment" while M&S and Lidl said they were both committed to opening in Dunfermline but had no further news. 

Mr Hamilton confirmed the land required for the south end of the bridge over the railway and the road tie-in to Kingseat Road "is owned by Royal London Mutual". 

He added: "Royal London Mutual have been approached by Fife Council to purchase the land and discussions are ongoing.”

Mr Harvey said: "One of the fundamental questions, and everyone who knows the junction will be asking the same, is why on earth would you end the NLR at what we call the Thomson's roundabout, just down from the level crossing? 

"It would meet the retail park traffic and Halbeath Road traffic, they won't be easing congestion, they'll be adding to it. Our view, and the view of the north Dunfermline community councils, is that putting it there is little short of crazy." 

The council said the estimated cost of the NLR approach road and bridge over the Fife Circle railway was £7.3m. 

Mr Harvey believes it could be four times higher, highlighting projects in Cambridgeshire and Bristol where costs spiralled to £30m and £50m respectively. 

He said: "The one in Bristol, the costs included demolition but both bridges are broadly similar to the Halbeath crossing but both are also shorter than what is proposed here. 

"At Halbeath, where they're talking about putting the bridge, they'll be crossing the space for six lines. I think it will cost nearer £30m and this is a cash-strapped council that has committed to building that bridge reasonably soon. 

"Where are they going to get the money? Developer contributions don't come in until houses are sold."