Aug 3 2012 By Kaiya Marjoribanks
McDONALDS have been told they’ve had their chips over plans to build a fast food restaurant near St Modans High School.
The burger giants had applied to build a new restaurant and drive through at Springkerse, with Stirling Council planners recommending conditional approval of the proposal.
On Wednesday, however, councillors on the planning panel, chaired by Councillor Christine Simpson, unanimously rejected the application, with some suggesting the fast food retailers were trying to cash in on custom from pupils.
The hearing heard that it was a "unique" situation given that the original decision to relocate St Modan’s High School from Bannockburn to an essentially retail/business park setting in 2008 was not ideal and borne out of necessity rather than suitability.
The application was brought before the panel at the request of Councillor Alasdair MacPherson in order to scrutinise whether or not it was an appropriate site and class usage in the location and whether or not it was an appropriate form of development given its proximity to St Modan’s. The Peak sports complex and Forthbank are also near to the site.
During the hearing panel members heard from McDonalds planning consultants, the chair of St Modan’s Parent Council Pat McKeown, and ward members Councillor Corrie McChord and Councillor Mark Ruskell.
The application was refused on the grounds that a Class 3 restaurant falls outwith the designated Class 4, 5 and 6 uses for the site such as office accommodation, general industry and storage or distribution facilities and that ancillary uses (Class 3) had reached the maximum threshold for the business park.
The panel also felt that the application went against the Scottish Government’s Obesity Route Map Action Plan.
The McDonalds representatives, however, argued that the company recognised its responsibilities as operators of a drive-thru restaurant, provided nutritional information both at point of purchase and online, had committed to working with the Scottish and UK Governments and had taken "considerable steps" in recent years to formulate menu choices to include items such as wraps, carrots, fruit and salads.
They said staff also actively tackled litter on a regular basis, and that the St Modan’s "closed gate policy" would mean children would not be filing out of school at lunchtimes to go to the outlet.
They argued that while the use was not strictly that designated in the Local Plan, it was "ancillary" to the surrounding area in the same way as various other outlets in the area. Various other sites had been investigated, but traditional leasing arrangements with other fast food operators restricted their options.
The agent added: "McDonalds are happy to engage with objectors and councillors should there be any concerns prior to opening if the application is approved.
"We trust the decision will be taken with regards to the Development Plan and existing policies.
"The proposal would create around 70 full and part time jobs and make use of a brownfield site which has lay empty for 10 years."
Councillors felt, however, that it should not be for the school staff to "police" the situation for the benefit of McDonalds.
Councillor Scott Farmer said: "It is stretching credulity if you think children would not be going after your principle food range which is high energy, high density foods such as burgers.
"Trying to convince us that McDonalds are paragons of healthy eating is quite frankly ludicrous and that’s why this is inappropriate near schools."
Councillor Alasdair Macpherson accused McDonalds of "attempting to mislead the panel" over the designated class use of the site, adding: "You mentioned social responsibility, but siting a burger restaurant next to a school is not social responsibility."
The parent council had argued the unsuitability of the development on a number of counts including road safety, and health and wellbeing.
Chair Pat McKeown said: "The closed gate policy is relatively successful at the moment but it shouldn’t be used as a lever for this development.
"We believe approving this application would set a dangerous precedent.
"We appreciate we are in an area which is industrial and the visibility of the school and schoolchildren is already a concern for us because it is an accident waiting to happen. Any increase in traffic will increase the risk."