Call for plan­ning in­quest

The Oban Times - - NEWS - EL­LIE FORBES eforbes@oban­times.co.uk

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.’

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