Glenrothes: The New Town - The Kingdom Of Fife

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Glenrothes: The New Town

Town & Districts

In current times, Fife is the smallest administrative region within a devolved Scottish Parliament of the United Kingdom and has a total population of about 350,000 people. There are no cities in Fife but the region lies centrally between Edinburgh, Dundee and Perth. More than a third of the population live in the four main towns of Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy, Glenrothes and St Andrews. This section describes these four communities.

Glenrothes is a modern town located approximately equidistant between the cities of Edinburgh, Pertyh and Dundee. It's the third largest town in Fife and is the regional administrative capital. It's name originates from the family of Leslie, Earl of Rothes, who formerly owned much of the land on which the town is built. The town is sited on both northern and southern sides of a valley (or 'glen' in old Scots tongue) through which the River Leven flows and where the town's Riverside Park is located. The title is thus derived from 'the glen of Rothes' or Glenrothes. It was believed that usage of this name would also avoid confusion with the town of Rothes in Morayshire.

The area selected for the establishment of the new town was initially centred around the existing hamlet of Woodside with other similar sized small communities such as Leslie, Cadham, Markinch, Coaltown of Balgonie and Thornton surrounding it. Some of these communities were already home to coal miners and Leslie had an enviable  reputation for the manufacture of paper.

Originally conceived as a 'post-war new town' under the New Towns (Scotland) Act of 1946, the initial plan was to create 'a self contained and balanced community' with a population of 35,000 people and where a sizeable proportion of these residents were expected to find employment in the new Rothes 'super colliery' being established to the south of the town. The new colliery was expected to extract five thousand tonnes of coal per day and to have a working life of about a century. It was expected to require a workforce of nearly four thousand miners and with many others working in supporting industries.

In preparation, management of the new town was awarded to the Glenrothes Development Corporation (GDC) by the Secretary of State for Scotland and the first meeting of the new organisation took place in 1949 with the primary objective being the development of a town plan and provison of affordable accommodation for miners and their families. Experienced local miners working at other local pits expressed doubt over the project and their worst fears were confirmed quite soon after the HRH Queen Elizabeth opened the facility in 1957.

As the mine project progressed, new rail marshalling yards were constructed at Redford just west of Thornton village and which remain to this day.
Geological problems dogged the project from an early stage when it was discovered the seams of coal lay much deeper than expected and where the task of extracting it would be difficult because of flooding and other problems deemed beyond redemption. The project was abandoned and the pit was closed just four years later in 1961 having employed fifteen hundred people and far fewer than expected. Unlike three of the four other new towns planned at the same time in Scotland, Livingston, Cumbernauld and East Kilbride, Glenrothes had never been designed as an overspill town for a nearby city. The GDC was thus compelled to refocus efforts on attracting new and very different industries to the town.

Expanding from Woodside village, the new town grew along different lines from traditional town planning with major separation of areas between those assigned to industrial purposes and that dedicated to residential housing. Although less evident in older parts of the town, through traffic was discouraged by means of establishing precincts in which all roads were cul-de-sacs and with an open park area and a primary school existing in the centre. Surrounding each precinct is a ring road and where access to each street is from this ring road. Main traffic through the town was constrained to major roads and where the use of roundabouts consumed much land but created a better traffic flow system than automated traffic lights would allow. Today, there are more roundabouts in Glenrothes than all other roundabouts in Fife when added together. Some of these have been sufficiently large as to invite the imagination of horticultural pioneers, and whose efforts have contributed towards awards won by the town.

The town received a Silver Guilt award in the 'Britain in Bloom' competition in 2009 and the David Welsh Memorial Award and the Large Town 'Take a Pride' award in 2010! By contrast, Glenrothes received a Carbuncle Award from the Urban Realm and Carnyx Group for its 'depressed and investment starved town centre' in 2009 but that maybe says more about the award than the town itself!

Following four phases and expansions, the Kingdom Centre was temporarily the largest indoor shopping centre in Scotland. It contains in excess of one hundred retail outlets supported by ample car parking, much of which is free of charge. The Kingdom Centre is home to the Rothes Halls theatre and conference centre, a cinema and one of the towns libraries. Naturally, and largely on account of the town's central location, the Kingdom Centre has the largest omnibus terminal in the region. A new expansion to the Kingdom Centre is currently underway and will include a large Tesco supermarket. This new expansion will see some of the Fife Regional Offices being demolished to make way for the expansion and where local Regional Operations will be conducted from a large building on the ouskirts of town at Bankhead Park.

Outwith and close by to the Kingdom Centre are Aldi, Lidl, Asda and Morrison supermarkets, each with their own free car parking facilities. In addition, the town has a number of former industrial manufacturing and production areas relegated to that of trading estates and where DIY, carpet and flooring products, glazing and blinds etc are located. There are several mini-shopping centres spread across the town and most precincts have individual shops providing basic necessities.

In terms of housing, the older precincts followed tried and proven methods of construction but later generations of building style introduced in the 1960s were noticeably more modern and more radical in design and sometimes blinded by the prospect of 'cheap electricity' that never actually took place. Sixteen blocks of five storey maisionettes were built in the western part of the but quickly became known as 'social catastrophes' on many levels.

The sixteen five storey residential blocks built in the western end of the town quickly fell into poor condition with some being privately owned. They became synonimously known as 'drug dens' and closely linked with criminal activities. At worst, it was estimated that about 6% of regional crime originated from these buildings. In 2012, almost all of these buildings directly controlled by Fife Region have been demolished with many of the sites refurburbished by conventional housing of modern design and improved visual ammenity.

What blocks of similar design remains under private ownership has become a major 'bone of contention' in recent years with some now reaching an apalling state of disrepair. The most notable of these are located in Huntly Drive and Durris Drive in Tanshall and both owned by the same people. Both have been devoid of occupation for some time and legal enforcement will see these removed before the end of 2012.

The future of 'Abbotsford Court' and 'Waverley Court' is unknown to this author at this time of writing although the former does seem to be in a fairly good condition and may evade the 'axe' for some time.

So far as is known, these represent the worse problems that the town has been compelled to face and where it has avoided even more serious and complex issues associated with 'high rise' towers and 'tenement' blocks. Glenrothes mainly comprises 'low-rise' housing with the majority of residents having their own gardens. The notable exception is 'Raeburn Heights'; a well managed eleven storey tower located near the centre of the town and where there had been plans for three others like it in the past but these were never built.

In the main, Glenrothes is divided into housing precincts or areas typically reflecting different building styles according to when they were built. One radical feature was integrated into the town plan right from inception and separates the needs of industry and residential areas. Another was to ensure wide open spaces of grassland and forest so far as was practical. Although the town has recognised public parks, about one third of the land area is given over to natural plant growth. This includes the plethora of large roundabouts installed at major road junctions in preference to traffic lights or other road traffic control systems. Many of these large roundabouts are tended by the local region to become small public gardens in their own right sporting flowers and horticultural decoration meriting awards to the town in recent times.    

The names of each precinct often originate from former connections and use of the land consumed by the town's expansion. These include the former stately homes and estates of Balgeddie, Balbirnie and Leslie Parks, or local farms like Rimbleton, Caskieberran, Tanshall, Stenton, Finglassie and Collydean), or else hamlets pre-existing before the town was born like Woodside and Cadham. Pre-existing towns like Leslie, Markinch, Thornton and the Coaltown of Balgonie are now typically regarded as a part of the 'Greater Glenrothes' area with Thornton to the south having the 'Glenrothes Rail Station' while the older Markinch Rail Station serves a similar function more northward and east of the town. Road access from the south after crossing the Forth Road Bridge then proceeding up the M90 motorway until Junction 3 and onto the dual carriageway Fife Regional Road A92. This main arterial highway remains as a dual carriageway until just a few miles north  of Glenrothes then becomes a regular two-way road leading towards the City of Dundee.

In 1959, Beckman Instruments became the first of several prominent inward investors from the USA and was followed by many others including Raytheon (then called Hughes), Burroughs mainframe computers and Cessna Fluid Power (a part of the Cessna aircraft corporation from Witchita in Kansas). They were all big investors and large employers and in honour of their presence and participation in the development of the town, many road names within the industrial zones were given 'American' titles like 'Detroit Road' and 'Boston Road' and where many other examples still exist in modern times. Early maps of the town described the Kinglassie Road as the 'Southern Freeway' and even a description of the north-south middle route was known as the 'western distributor' and perhaps with American influence. At differing times in the town's history, many companies based in the USA had satellite operations based in Glenrothes and providing valuable local employment.

In addition, there were many indigenous companies who made their mark by investing in Glenrothes and by the early 1970s, it was difficult to be unemployed if you had sufficient skills to fill the vast number of vacancies. This author came to the town in November 1972 and went to interviews during the flitting process and had a job before evening of that same day! providing I could start just a few days later! It was actually possible to arrive in the morning, secure employment before lunch and be offered a house before the day was over but always providing applicants had the right skills or sufficient educational background worthy of training and investment.

The town expanded rapidly on this basis and drew in many people from other parts of Fife and Scotland. Some of the smaller communities originally surrounding the new town became absorbed to become part of a 'Greater Glenrothes' street plan and where the former target for a township of 35,000 people was revised to a new target of 50,000!
The notion of a 'Greater Glenrothes' and all inclusive of the communities described above doesn't erase or remove individuality in terms of architecture, appearance or history, but it's equally undeniable that all are now all influenced by huge measure on a daily basis by their proximity. It's because of this that this web site excludes any separate mention of their existence since most residents of these communities are now heavily influenced by the new town. There are no separate entries for these communities on this web site as they can now be regarded as part of this 'Greater Glenrothes' scheme.

Today, Glenrothes generates about thirty-five thousand jobs and has the highest inward commuter traffic compared to any other town in Fife. Despite this, unemployment rates in the area are typically slightly higher than the Scottish average in 2012.

Surprisingly, for such a young town, there are now three churches considered as listed buildings. St Margaret's Church in the Woodside area is a category C, while St Pauls RC Church in the Auchmuty precinct has been awarded category B. St Columba's church, with its distinctive triangular iron bell tower and Mondrian inspired stain glass windows carries a category A rating. In addition, the huge rail bridge spanning the Leven valley between Thornton to the south of the new town and Markinch to the east of the new town; and an important part of the eastern Scottish rail network, carries a category B listing. To the west of Glenrothes is the B-listed Cabbagehall Railway Viaduct which once carried a branch rail line connecting Leslie to Markinch over the River Leven Valley. Today, the route of the old rail line serves as a cycle path and pedestrian walkway permitting people to cross from Leslie in the west to Woodside in the east then onto Markinch while rarely encountering motorised traffic.

It's called Bõblingen Way and in recognition of the twin-towns concept whereby Glenrothes is twinned with Bõblingen, a town in the Baden-Wüttemberg part of Germany.

Development of Glenrothes demanded inclusion of proper educational and recreational facilities beyond that of primary schools centred within many precincts. Three large secondary age schools are based in the town and the oldest, Auchmuty High School, has been scheduled for replacement albeit subject to national economic stringency and where this project may be postponed. South Parks (pictured) and Glenwood are the other secondary schools in the town. All of them offer out-of-normal-hours usage by the public. The are thirteen primary schools in Glenrothes. On August 1st, 2005, Glenrothes Technical College merged with the nearby Kirkcaldy Technical College and became rebranded as the Adam Smith College to become the third largest college establishment in Scotland.

New departments of further education and learning created for the new college include engineering, manufacture and support, modern building construction, low carbon emission and capture technologies, renewable energy resources and science. Even before it opened the ASC had secured many important deals with local industry involving 'apprenticeship contracts' involving renewable energy engineering.

The sports complex of the town is the FIPRE or Fife Institute of Physical Reacreation and Education. It's a large facility containing floodlit athletics tracks and astro turf pitches outside while the main building has a large gymnasium and two swimming pools.The town has three 18-hole golf courses conveniently located at Markinch to the east, Tanshall to the west and Thornton to the south. Leslie has a 9 hole course. The Tanshall golf course is home to a golfing academy.

Glenrothes FC is a junior club who regularly play at the Warout Club and Stadium. More than a third of the town area is given over to forest and grassland so residents are never far from wide open spaces in which to walk their dogs or play games.

This policy extends to that of the road system within the town. Many precincts are designed so that through traffic within the precinct is restricted or impossible with each street being a cul-de-sac and where access is made by means of a ring road surrounding the precinct. In place of traffic lights and control systems, Glenrothes has more roundabounts within its town boundaries than all other rondabouts in the whole region of Fife when added together! Most have names to help with navigation and are suffienciently large to encourage horticultural masterpieces.

Glenrothes was one the first places in Scotland to appoint a town artist and where some of the works were conducted on a large scale at considerable cost. The metal 'flight of birds' near Fife House (not shown) was reputed to have cost about £7,000 to build and install. Some of these works were questionable like the stone hippos and mushrooms but the giant colourful iris flowers beside the Leslie Road remain a distinctive landmark.

Circa 1980, and like many other towns, the economy started to take a turn for the worse. The UK entry to the EEC in 1972 proved disasterous for local farms and fishing and the Thatcherist Conservative Government of 1979 was hell-bent on destruction of the coal mining industry: all of which had an impact on the new town in large measure. At that time, a square foot of factory space in Glenrothes cost £2.38 while the charge in Italy was typically 90p. Glenrothes had many inward investors who decided that relocation elsewhere and closer to their markets made good business sense. The economic recession of the 1990s saw many companies withdraw support for satellite extensions of their business. In the case of Glenrothes, this often meant closure and where the main base in the USA took precedence. The Burroughs computer factory was destroyed in a fire and the company decided not to replace it. The site lay vacant for years before it becoming the site of the regional police headquarters pictured on the left. A number of companies came and went, moving towards the lower wage economies of the Far East. Many ambitious projects planned for the town evaporated with their passing. Today, there are visual clues to where projects began but were never completed.

The most obvious is the Bankhead Interchange on the A92 regional road. As planned, it should have been an elevated roundabout with the main regional road running beneath it but the project ran out of money and became the traffic bottleneck in existence today. It's the reason why motorists climb to a high point before dropping quickly on many approaches to this roundabout. It's equally sad to relate how the B822 'Cluny Road' is the second main link between Glenrothes and Kirkcaldy. The junction at Inchdairnie is particularly hazardous in darkness at peak times and where long queues exceeding a mile long have become common. The 40 mph restriction is regularly ignored and adds to the problem rather than resolves it. It's a junction more in need of traffic lights than almost anywhere else in Fife! There were plans to upgrade the local airfield into a proper 'Fife Airport' with an extended runway and new terminal building, custom officers etc but it never happened and leaving a few road signs pointing to 'Fife Airport' in the local area. Today, the airfield is privately owned and often serves to train pilots of light aircraft and students of the Royal Air Force.

In conclusion, Glenrothes has been compelled to follow the course of many UK towns caught in a similar dilemma and where many ambitions and dreams have evaporated and many jobs have been exported to the Far East. Some industrial estates have been translated into trading estates while others are currently being considered as potential locations for future housing.


Photographs by Michael Westwater and Alandon. Text by Alandon.

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