A SENIOR councillor said he gets why some people think that "all sorts of criminal processes are going on" in Fife Council's planning system.

Dave Dempsey, who represents Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay, stated that officers' decisions about development proposals were too inconsistent.

He said: "There are members of the public who believe that the whole thing is a racket and all sorts of criminal processes are going on behind the scenes in planning.

"I don't hold to that at all but I can understand why people begin to think it as so much is down to personal judgements that are not objectively justifiable.

"My sympathies lie, to some extent, with the planners who have to make this daft system work."

Cllr Dempsey continued: "The rules say things like fences should be 10 metres from the boundary, they're not but that's OK, and the gardens should be a certain size, they aren't but that's OK, and the whole thing keeps going like that.

"These are planning applications and reports written by council officers and it comes down to an individual's whims and judgement whether it's OK.

"They're not actually doing anything wrong, and I'm not having a go at them individually, but it's all very unsatisfactory when you look at it in the round."

The Tory group leader at the council spoke out after attending the west planning committee last week, where an application for 92 new homes at Townhill was recommended for approval by officers but rejected by councillors.

He said officers overlooked the estimated housing capacity – 80 homes – and that guidelines on minimum garden size and a buffer between the houses and the woodland were not being met but were deemed acceptable by planners.

His argument was backed by Ronnie Cowan, chair of Townhill Community Council, who said: "What's the point in having a planning department that doesn't stick by the rules when it involves large building firms?

"I don't know if the financial inducement they were getting from the developer to help pay for the Northern Relief Road meant they were under pressure to get this through."

Mr Cowan said the proposals backed by planning officers included houses facing onto Townhill Road with driveways at the front.

He said: "Personally, I applied to put a vehicle entrance into my property on Main Street and I was told by the council there had to be enough room to turn a vehicle, so that was one reason why they shouldn't have these new houses with driveways leading onto the main road.

"For some reason, the council's planners said that wasn't required in this case."

He continued: "When I asked, I was told by a council officer it was a classified road, it's a bus route and there are skip lorries travelling up and down, so I needed full planning permission. Two officers even came up to check that I could turn a vehicle in the space.

"So I found it strange that planning officers are now saying it's a C-class road and there aren't any issues. That was only two years ago.

"Why do I have to stick by the rules when builders are told they don't have to?"

Fife Council's chief officer in planning, Pam Ewen, explained that, particularly for large-scale planning applications, the reports to planning committees could be lengthy.

She said: "It's important that all relevant considerations are assessed in determining a planning application, and that elected members are fully informed on a particular proposal so that they can make their decision.”

Cllr Dempsey said the planning system at both local and national government level needed to be overhauled.

He added: "If you look at FIFEplan (the council's local development plan for what should be built and where), about half of the comments were from developers saying, 'We don't think you should pick this site, we think you should pick our site instead' and there was bucketloads of that.

"To a certain extent, it was like a lottery to decide which property developer gets rich and gets their site included in FIFEplan.

"There has to be a better way of doing this. I could spend all day talking about what's wrong with the planning system."