Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Questions Raised Over Councillor's Planning Role

“Objectivity in planning is critical” - Gordon McDonald

The SNP’s Opposition Spokesperson on Planning and Regulatory Services, Cllr Gordon McDonald, has questioned the role of the Vice Chair of the Council’s Planning Committee, Cllr Chris Tuke, in considering wind turbine applications.

In a meeting of the Committee on Tuesday Cllr McDonald revealed that Cllr Tuke had recently signed a petition entitled ‘Call a halt to windfarm development in Moray’. Cllr McDonald said Cllr Tuke should consider declaring an interest, however Cllr Tuke did not do so and went on to take part in 5 separate applications for wind turbines.

The Standards Commission for Scotland clearly states in the Councillors Code of Conduct that the objective test is ‘whether a member of the public, with knowledge of the relevant facts, would reasonably regard the interest as so significant that it is likely to prejudice your discussion or decision making in your role as a councillor’.

Clearly, in the case of planning, that test must be considered for all parties involved whether it is the applicant, objectors or the general public.

Speaking after the meeting Cllr McDonald said:

“Maintaining objectivity in planning is critical to the transparency and integrity of the system. It does not matter whether the application is for a small extension to a house, a new commercial development or a wind turbine, both applicants and objectors must have confidence that councillors are basing their decisions on the facts in front of them and that they have not pre-judged any application they will consider.

“By signing this petition Cllr Tuke has, in my view, a clearly declared position against windfarms and, therefore, he should declare an interest and remove himself from consideration of turbine applications in the same way that his Administration colleague Cllr Fiona Murdoch rightly and correctly does.

“The Council’s decision making process in planning must minimise the risk of challenge or there is a serious risk of the Council incurring substantial legal costs defending challenges. That could have a serious impact on the Council’s wider budget and, therefore, the delivery of a wide-range of important public services.

“There has been plenty of training for Councillors, including those recently elected, about the pitfalls of not declaring interests so there can be no excuse for it. Actions like this could undermine the process and could also leave the council wide open to expensive planning appeals.”
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