Action on the Ground – Cupar Development Trust

Bill Pagan, Board member of BEFS, and founding Board member of Cupar Development Trust, offers thoughts on progress in Cupar in 2017 and the challenges to achieving action on the ground.  

St Catherine Street from the east, autumn 2017. Completed County Buildings on the left.
Under scaffolding, former Clydesdale Bank on the right, and Burgh Chambers back left, both now completed.

The 2016 CharrettePlus in Cupar, led by PAS, was community-driven and mobilised local businesses, property-owners and the community at large. Many aspirations were identified.

The major tasks of Cupar Development Trust (CDT) in delivering some of the aspirations expressed during the Charrette have not been helped by closures – of another bank, a major office employer, and shops – during 2017. One of the shops explained its closure specifically as a chance to save costs by moving online only, and I believe another is moving in that direction. BEFS Small Towns Reports (including Cupar’s) recognised these sorts of challenges across Scotland.

Nevertheless, Fife Historic Buildings Trust are delivering the CARS and THI schemes, with Fiona Stenke their weel kent representative on the ground. Buildings in the heart of the town centre have been conserved and smartened. A particularly welcome part of the CARS/THI work in 2017 was the conservation of the Burgh Chambers.

The Interpretive Plan, produced in June 2017, after considerable effort by both a local Working Group and CMC Consultants, was the highlight of the year. It was funded by a £15,000 grant from the Scottish Government’s Activating Ideas Fund. The Plan’s main aims are:

  • to encourage and define practical steps which will help people engage with Cupar’s rich heritage
  • to map the strategic, longer-term goals of the community in ways that policymakers and funders can back.

In the second half of 2017, CDT then made several applications for funding to take the Interpretive Plan forward, with disappointing results. The thrust of these applications was to assist the delivery of “Digital Cupar”, the means identified for enhancing the understanding of Cupar’s Heritage, and increasing footfall in the town centre – both for direct Commercial & Retail activity and for Tourist Interpretation

Another funding application, to the Heritage Enterprise Fund, was for ‘Development Funding’ as a first step to securing capital grant for the renovation of a group of derelict buildings, in the very heart of the town centre. The “Inner Court” project is an important plank of Cupar’s re-generation, and was presented to the Charrette, where it received overwhelming support. Its aims are to deliver 28 new houses, and an element of Community and Commercial facilities, in the backlands bounded by two of Cupar’s main streets, Bonnygate and Crossgate.

This retail development is bound to have some impact on Cupar’s town centre, if indeed there is a market for it – it appears that only one site within it has been let so far.

The main task for CDT in 2018 is to show HLF and others that it is a resilient community-based organisation, with a long-life strategy for delivery. As well as keeping the pot boiling on the Interpretive Plan, the major challenges are the Inner Court Development and George Inn Pend. The overall aspiration is shown in this drawing of Inner Court, George Inn Pend being the one parallel to, and closest to, Bonnygate. The Bonnygate gap site – Cupar’s missing tooth – is shown filled by the only part of the proposals which reaches right through to a main street, the Bonnygate.

CDT’s tasks and aspirations move at a measured pace, dictated by the need for funding. Meantime, other changes intervene. Kingdom Housing Association (who are taking the lead in the Inner Court project) have 49 affordable houses under construction in their Pitscotttie Road site on the south-east boundary; Stephens have lodged a detailed application for 55 mixed housing units, possibly rising to 168, at Gilliesfaulds at the western gateway to the town; and discussions continue on the “Cupar North” site for 1480 houses, with a promised town relief road.

Cupar North has now been included in the Fife Plan. One of the town’s very active groups, Sustainable Cupar, will press for improved road safety provision on the present and future routes to the local services, including schools.

Cupar, like the rest of the country, cannot escape the impact of the financial crash of 2007/2008 on the housing sector. This, and the inordinate length of time taken to approve the Fife Development Plan, has delayed all substantial private house-builder activity in Cupar. Cupar has however been fortunate to have 18 new affordable homes right in the town centre – a part of the CARS/THI scheme for the County Buildings.

While the Tay Cities Deal’s main target in Fife is the St Andrews University ecological development at Guardbridge, some infrastructure in North East Fife may be funded, and this could include a contribution to the Cupar relief road. This would be particularly welcome because the Planning condition currently proposed would demand construction of that road only after the completion of the first 600 houses. This would have a serious impact on congestion and pollution, as much of the additional traffic generated would be fighting its way through the narrow town centre. Negotiations on infrastructure generally – schools, medical services, drainage and other services – have added to delays.

CDT and its partner organisations expect a major part of their efforts over the next three years, and beyond, to be raising funding for, and then delivering, small projects supported by HLF and others. Out of that experience, it will become clearer what the delivery of the Interpretive Plan, and other aspirations identified during the Charrette process, will require, including what structures will be best suited to the tasks. These tasks go beyond heritage alone, and will include social, cultural and environmental initiatives, with a strong element of education incorporated. Success in those will contribute to economic improvement.

You can follow progress via, Twitter @CuparCould, Instagram @CuparCould and Facebook.