Planning department ‘not fit for purpose’
CONFIDENCE has been lost in Argyll and Bute Council’s planning department, Connel Community Council reported at its meeting, after a planning mistake resulted in a house being built too close to a former teacher’s home in the village.
The Planning, Protective Services and Licensing Committee voted five to four at a public hearing on November 3 to mitigate the nine-metre shortfall and privacy issues suffered by Ann Colthart by frosting and removing windows and erecting a hedge.
Connel Community Council secretary Roger Ashforth, in a letter to Argyll and Bute Council’s executive director of development and infrastructure Pippa Milne, wrote that its November meeting was ‘universally critical’ of the planners’ performance.
Community members deemed the department ‘not fit for purpose’, and claimed ‘scrutiny applied to planning proposals by individuals as opposed to those of developers appeared not to be consistent’. The letter also cited ‘the general perception’ the hearing decision was ‘a miscarriage of justice’.
Mr Ashforth said the ‘series of errors indicate the planning department lost control of the monitoring of the site. The question now arises how it can avoid repeating these mistakes and restore public faith. There needs to be an open and transparent review to check it is “fit for purpose”.’
Responding, Angus Gilmore, the council’s head of planning and regulatory services, assured ‘the department is fit for purpose’, asserting it ‘scored very well’ in the Scottish Government’s independent evaluation, demonstrating ‘continuous improvement and performance considerably above the national average’.
Mr Gilmore added: ‘Confidence in the department has been affected by the processing of the planning application at St Oran’s Place, Connel.
‘This is unfortunate but I give you my assurance all developments, applicants and members of the public are treated with parity and comparable scrutiny. There is total transparency to the planning process.
‘I appreciate the decisions of the planning officers and planning committee have not been to the satisfaction of the community council but they followed a robust decisionmaking route, in the view of all the facts, that cannot be considered a “miscarriage of justice”.
‘A public and personal apology has been made to Ms Colthart due to the shortcomings of council officers. The site adjacent to Duriehill has been earmarked as a development site for almost a decade and the outlook would always have been altered.’
On behalf of Ms Colthart, Maud Marshall told the The Oban Times the council’s chief executive Cleland Sneddon visited her Duriehill home last Friday to add a personal apology.
Ms Marshall said: ‘Ann explained the effect the errors have had on her life these past eight months and on her enjoyment of her home of over 30 years.
‘He was open to seeking an acceptable way forward which would avoid the last resort option of legal action that, as he said “would be in no- one’s interest”.’
Ms Colthart added: ‘I appreciate the time Cleland Sneddon took on Friday. I think he understood how awful things have been for me.
‘I’m still not ruling out legal action, but I can say we agreed to look at any possibilities available to bring this unhappy state of affairs to a mutually acceptable close.
‘I will be writing to him shortly with my ideas.’