Com­mu­ni­ties ready to take a stand over plan­ning process

The Oban Times - - Lochaber Times - ELLIE FORBES and MON­ICA GIB­SON fort@oban­

COM­MU­NITY coun­cils across Lochaber say they are ready to take a stand over a per­ceived lack of trans­parency in the lo­cal au­thor­ity’s plan­ning process.

At their meet­ing on April 10, Caol Com­mu­nity Coun­cil (CCC) voiced its in­ten­tion to write to the High­land Coun­cil’s (HC) plan­ning de­part­ment as they feel its thoughts and sug­ges­tions are fall­ing on deaf ears.

John Gille­spie pointed out that de­spite HC putting the onus on com­mu­nity coun­cils to hold con­sul­ta­tions, en­gage with the pub­lic and re­port back any is­sues which arise, more of­ten than not ap­pli­ca­tions are given the green light with­out fur­ther no­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Don­ald El­der agreed and said: ‘There have been at least 20 amend­ments to the Lochy­side de­vel­op­ment since the plan­ning ses­sions were held here [Caol Com­mu­nity Cen­tre]. Roads, flood­ing, the ze­bra cross­ing be­ing moved - loads of things have changed since plan­ning closed and we were never in­formed. Changes were re­cently made to the ori­en­ta­tion of the houses. Householders re­ceived let­ters but the com­mu­nity coun­cil doesn’t seem to have been kept in the loop.’

It was sug­gested that un­less a change is classed as ‘ma­jor’, the coun­cil does not have to come back to any­one who has raised a con­cern or com­mented.

John Gille­spie added: ‘There is a dif­fer­ence be­tween statu­tory re­quire­ment and com­mon courtesy. It makes you think what is the point of putting your con­cerns for­ward?’

Spean Bridge, Roy Bridge and Ach­nacarry Com­mu­nity Coun­cil chair­man John Fother­ing­ham told the Lochaber

Times there is no ex­pla­na­tion as to why the coun­cil comes to the de­ci­sions it does on plans, it just does. He con­tin­ued: ‘About three-and-a-half years ago we ob­jected to camp­ing pods at Gair­lochy which went to the south plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion com­mit­tee and we got about 11 sec­onds of dis­cus­sion on it. We threat­ened to pull out of the plan­ning process and the HC al­most had kit­tens. They then sent down a top plan­ning of­fi­cial to see us.’

There were sim­i­lar dis­cus­sions at the lat­est Duror and Ken­tallen Com­mu­nity Coun­cil meet­ing where mem­bers de­cided to write to the om­buds­man af­ter feel­ing ‘ig­nored’ by the coun­cil on a plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion.

De­spite ob­ject­ing to a six­house de­vel­op­ment in the vil­lage, the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion was granted ear­lier this year.

Chair­man Jonathan Bax­ter said: ‘ The High­land Coun­cil is go­ing to have to pay greater at­ten­tion to what com­mu­ni­ties have to say about plan­ning.’

An­other com­mu­nity coun­cil­lor com­mented: ‘ The com­mu­nity coun­cil won’t just sit back and do noth­ing.’

A HC spokesper­son said: ‘We do try and work with all con­trib­u­tors to en­sure they have the op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate. We will al­ways take on board pos­i­tive sug­ges­tions on how we can im­prove our ser­vice and con­tinue to sup­port the de­vel­op­ment of Lochaber and High­land.’

The Lochaber Times also un­der­stands there are plans for the Lochaber Area Com­mit­tee to have in­creased pow­ers and asked HC if plan­ning would be in­cluded in this.

HC re­sponded: ‘ The cur­rent po­si­tion is that rel­e­vant plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tions are re­ported to two plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tions com­mit­tees – North and South. It is not in­tended to change this at the cur­rent time.’

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