North Ayrshire Council is to spend £150,000 hiring a leading Queens Counsel (QC) to represent the local authority at a Public Inquiry into plans to build a coal-fuel power station at Hunterston.
In a report to go before this week’s meeting of the Council’s ruling SNP Cabinet, NAC’s senior legal officer, Mr Ian Mackay, explains the local authority’s Legal Services department does not have the resources to undertake a major Public Inquiry, which could run for six weeks. A Preliminary Inquiry Meeting is scheduled to be held on June 13, with the Inquiry itself likely to take place towards the end of the year. Mr Mackay confirms “external [legal] advisors have been sought,” and that, “given the importance of the Inquiry, it was concluded that Senior Counsel should be employed to represent North Ayrshire Council.”
In his report for SNP councillors, Mr Mackay adds, “A number of top QCs were considered and, following a review, the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Leader and Depute Leader of the Council, agreed to instruct the appointment of Mr James Findlay, QC, to represent North Ayrshire Council at the Inquiry. Mr Findlay will be supported by Junior Counsel, who will provide the necessary assistance the QC requires.”
The SNP Cabinet will be asked to agree the actions taken by officials under the Council’s ‘Scheme of Delegation’. The cost of hiring the QC to represent the Council at the Public Inquiry is to be met from an “underspend” in the previous financial year.
At a special meeting last November, North Ayrshire Council unanimously agreed to object to an application by Ayrshire Power Limited for permission to construct a multi-fuel power station at Hunterston. Subsequently, Scottish Ministers ordered a Public Inquiry should be held to determine whether consent should be given to construct the facility. The ultimate decision will be made by the SNP Scottish Government.
News of the local Council’s decision to hire expert legal representation came in the same week it was revealed a loophole in the UK Government’s new energy bill would allow coal-fired power stations, such as the one proposed for Hunterston, to belch out hundreds-of-millions of tonnes of climate-polluting carbon emissions.
Plans submitted in relation to the proposed £3bn Hunterston power station indicate it would only be able to ‘trap’ around 20 per cent of emissions using Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), a relatively new and untested technology. The other 80 per cent of carbon emissions would be pumped into the North Ayrshire sky, a situation that would wreck the Scottish Government’s target to cut carbon emissions.