A 'BUILD now, pay later' decision by Fife Council should help the long-awaited extension to Halbeath Retail Park to get under way.

It promised to bring nine new shops – including a Lidl supermarket and Marks and Spencer Foodstore – as well as 200 jobs to Dunfermline when it was approved more than three years ago.

Work has never started and in April the council gave the park's owners, Royal London Mutual Insurance Society, extra time to begin and have now allowed them to delay payment on a planning obligation.

The developer was required to pay £703,000 for transport improvements in the area in two equal instalments – when work starts and the rest just before the opening of the first food store.

That's now changed.

The council has agreed that Royal London don't have to pay half of the money in advance and can pay the full sum before any of the units open on site.

A report at the central and west planning committee last week explained: "The applicant sets out that at the start of development, there are significant outlays in the construction process and therefore upfront costs towards strategic transport intervention measures which may not be spent for some time may be difficult to justify.

"It also sets out that even if development commences on site, the retail stores may not be open for trade for some time."

Although opposed by council officers, amid claims the retail park extension would "kill the High Street" in Dunfermline, the original plans were approved by councillors in February 2017 after a 6-5 vote.

They decided that the creation of jobs, use of vacant land and the opportunity to "complete" the retail park outweighed any reservations.

The three-year planning permission was due to expire this month but, due to the pandemic, that has now been extended to April 7 next year.

The retail park extension also includes new non-food units, around 300 new car-parking spaces, traffic safety measures and a new pedestrian crossing on Halbeath Road.

Royal London had indicated initially that wouldn’t pay for transport improvements and would instead offer to “guarantee access to the land” for the Northern Link Road, a £14 million-plus bypass which will run from Halbeath to Milesmark, taking traffic away from the town centre and serving the new housing estates to the north of the town.

They changed their minds and agreed to make the financial contribution, before submitting an appeal, arguing the demand wasn't justified.

This was rejected in January 2018.

Asked about the retail park extension earlier this summer, Lidl said they were "still committed to the project" while M&S said they "remain interested in the Dunfermline area but don't currently have any further news to share".