Call for planning inquest
CONCERNS over a planning application for new houses in Spean Bridge have led to a resident requesting an investigation into the standards and procedures of the Highland Council’s planning department in Fort William.
Plans for the development opposite Spean Crescent angered Richard and Rachel Matthews last year, as reported in The
Oban Times of September 15, 2016.
Density of the proposed homes and the cutting of mature trees were just two of the issues raised by Mrs Matthews in her comments to planning.
Six objections to the application have been made to the Highland Council. But Mrs Matthews has told the Lochaber Times she has growing concerns about ‘procedural matters which have not been adhered to’.
She said: ‘I have requested an investigation into the planning department, not just because of the way this housing application has been handled but because systematic failings continue to happen.
‘Changes have been made on this application, but we have not been given proper information as to what these changes are.
‘The notice we received is most unhelpful and doesn’t explain anywhere that we are being served a copy of it because the applicant has submitted further information in support of an existing application.’
Mrs Matthews added: ‘It would have been helpful if the council had included a letter telling us what has changed and what information we are now expected to be viewing and responding to. They are not making the in- formation accessible for people, but then still expecting people to put in their comments.’
In a letter to the Highland Council Mrs Matthews said: ‘After repeated and consistent failings by the planning department based in Fort William of even the most basic of standards, procedures and protocols of national and local guidelines, I am now requesting an investigation.
‘Basic procedural requirements from Highland Council Planning Office Fort William are not being adhered to and as you have a professional duty to ensure standards are being met within your departments, we feel you ought to made aware of this.
‘We have highlighted our concerns previously and yet no changes have been made and they continue to carry on regardless.’
The three main procedural concerns with the planning ap- plication for Spean Bridge were that it has not been considered a major development, only five households have been consulted in a population of more than 600 people, who ‘ought to be given the opportunity to voice their opinions,’ and how a material change in an application does not result in the original application being withdrawn and a new appropriate application being submitted.
Stuart Black, director of development and infrastructure, responded to Mrs Matthews in great detail, saying the Fort William planning office ‘comprises a small team of hard working and dedicated officers who strive to make considered, balanced and fair decisions which benefit the local area and the wider Highlands and in whom I have every confidence undertake their duties in nothing other than a professional manner.
‘ Whilst I have no doubt as to the competence of the Fort William team, I recognise that you have raised a valuable point regarding community engagement and will consider what improvements could be made to raise the public’s awareness of the planning processes and hopefully prevent the negative experience you have had.’
A Highland Council spokesperson said: ‘If someone is not content with the response they receive from The Highland Council they should write back stating why.
‘If they are still unsatisfied they can contact the Ombudsman.’
Mrs Matthews said: ‘We might have taken this investigation as far as it can go, but I am fully prepared to take it to the judiciary review at Holyrood.
‘I won’t let this go and I am not doing it to be difficult. I am doing it because this cannot continue.’