PLANNING decisions made by democratically-elected local councillors "are being overturned in West Fife with an alarming regularity".

That's the view of Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Mark Ruskell, who gave examples of large developments in Aberdour and Crossford that were rejected by Fife Council but approved on appeal to the Scottish Government.

He said the reporter had overturned decisions on the basis there was a shortfall of available housing land but Mr Ruskell reckons this argument is based on out-of-date figures.

He said: “In recent years, large developments in Aberdour and Crossford have both been approved on appeal, despite the communities having fought to keep the sites out of the local development plan.

"Yet now, we find the predicted need for housing land is much lower than previously expected.

“The current situation is creating a culture in which big developers see a planning rejection as little more than a mild inconvenience and communities are having decisions imposed on them without their consent.

"It’s an unsustainable situation and the Scottish Government should commit to respecting the democratic wishes of Fife communities, rather than riding roughshod over the local development plan at every opportunity.”

Cala Homes' proposals to build 85 homes on a site south of Main Street in Aberdour attracted more than 800 objections and were refused by the council, only to be overturned last year after an appeal to the DPEA (planning and environmental appeals department).

Stewart Milne Homes had also been unsuccessful, with the council knocking back their plans to build 200 homes on land south of Pitconnochie Farm, between Crossford and Cairneyhill.

There were 139 letters of objection and the plans were approved on appeal last December.

Council officers have argued that there isn't a shortfall in the number of houses needed in parts of West Fife.

However, developers are pointing out that the council's argument is based on figures in the rejected South East Scotland Plan (SESplan 2), which included a major reduction in the projected number of homes needed from the original SESplan.

SESplan 2 was refused by Scottish ministers last year due to the lack of a proper transport assessment but council officers believe the housing target figures in the regional spatial strategy should still be used as "the rejection letter raised no concerns” about them.

Mr Ruskell raised the issue in parliament with planning minister Kevin Stewart and said: "Numerous planning permissions for new housing developments in West Fife are being granted outwith the local development plan by the reporter on the basis of a perceived housing shortfall, and the new spatial strategy for South-East Scotland contains a housing land requirement for Fife that is a third lower than the previous figures.

"Has the minister considered those revised figures? Can he confirm whether the Government’s reporter will now commit to upholding the democratically-decided local development plan for Fife?"

In reply, Mr Stewart said: "One of the reasons why we are carrying out the current consultation is that there is often an argument about numbers and about that presumption.

"As Mr Ruskell has pointed out, some communities feel there is over-development.

"I am keen to ensure that, in the light of the new planning act, local development plans have the right housing numbers in them.

"I am keen to get that right as we move forward and I want to see robust local development plans and robust regional spatial strategies.

"National planning framework 4 also has to be absolutely right. If all of that is done, we will iron out some of the difficulties that some communities feel they are in."