A COMMUNITY bid to take over a historic West Fife hotel is set to continue after an application to turn the building into flats was turned down.

Fife Council's west and central planning committee rejected proposals to change the use of North Queensferry's Albert Hotel into four flats at its meeting last Wednesday.

The plans had attracted a total of 133 letters of objection and councillors heard that supporting information from applicant Festival Inns had "fallen short" in terms of proving that the use of the building as a tourism or community facility was not viable.

Planning service manager Mary Stewart said: "In terms of viability, the applicant has submitted a degree of information but it's not conclusive in terms of viability.

"There are issues around the valuation in that there has been a deterioration in the condition of the building, it would seem, and the valuation goes back to a full survey with a desktop refresh rather than a full valuation."

Responding to concerns from Councillor David Alexander that a "ruin" could be created if the plans were knocked back, Ms Stewart added: "It's always a difficult balance for planners to achieve. We obviously want to secure the future of a listed building and the best way to secure its future is to ensure it's in productive use of some sort.

"There is a valuable community asset here so it comes back to whether we have satisfied the tests set out in the development plan and our assessment is that those tests have not been satisfied.

"If, after a period of prolonged vacancy, it can be demonstrated those tests have been met, then yes, it would be appropriate to consider an alternative to secure the future of the building.

"But, in our view, that's not where they are at present."

In a statement to planners, Festival Inns had said there could be "no doubt" that the property had been marketed at a fair market value over the necessary period.

It added: "It is not for the planning authority to seek to influence this or make judgements on the adequacy of commercial information that are not material to land use and conservation matters.

"Whilst we appreciate that some objectors in the local community would like to see continued use as a community facility, no realistic proposal has come forward to this effect."

Hopes that the historic pub could be restored and re-opened have been mooted by the North Queensferry Community Trust, who accused the current owners of demanding an "unrealistic" high price for the site.

Its chairman, Iain Mitchell QC, told the Press: "We are not surprised that the council planning committee have found no active steps were taken by the owners to market and sell the property at a fair price for its current planning use.

"We are just about, as a community trust, to issue a part five request to the owner requesting them to enter into negotiation for sale of the site to the community. We hope that they realise that this does give them the opportunity to sell the property at a fair price to benefit the community.

"There was a very large number of people in the village who, entirely of their own will, came up with their own objectives. These were all genuine, spontaneous expressions of sentiment of people in the village and it is wonderful to see their faith in the planning process vindicated."

Local councillor David Barratt said the ball was "now in the court" of the hotel owners.

"There are certain things the community can get on with in terms of putting things together and putting all its ducks in a row to make sure if they decide to sell, they are in a position to proceed," he added.

"The potential is there to be a very successful premise. Now is the time for the applicant to engage constructively with locals and particularly with those who do have an interest in purchasing the building and operating it in the interest of the community."