Saturday, 31 January 2015

Councillor's comments anger officials

A Labour councillor could be in hot water over comments criticising the actions of Planning officials and fellow councillors.

Jim Montgomerie (pictured), who represents Saltcoats & Stevenston, spoke-out after North Ayrshire Council’s Planning Committee approved an application for ‘permission in principle’ from Clowes Developments (Scotland) Ltd in relation to a residential development on a site adjacent to Stevenston Industrial Estate.

Cllr Montgomerie, a member of the Planning Committee, moved a motion to reject the application when it was heard last week.  However, the motion did not receive any support.  An alternative proposal to grant ‘permission in principle’, proposed by Tory councillor Tom Marshall and seconded by Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol, was agreed by the Committee without dissent from any member.

A number of conditions were applied to permission, including that “prior to the commencement of the development...the applicant shall submit for the written approval of North Ayrshire Council as Planning Authority a scheme to deal with contamination on the site”.

The location of the proposed residential development is on land that was formerly part of the Imperial Chemical Industries factory at Ardeer.  As such, Planning officials also inserted further conditions, such as, “The scheme shall contain details of proposals to deal with contamination including: a) the nature, extent and type(s) of contamination on the site, including the testing of groundwater for explosives residue and a review of the Mason Evans site investigation report dated February 2008 submitted in support of the application; b) measures to treat/remove contamination to ensure the site is fit for the use proposed, including details of phasing of the proposed measures; c) measures to deal with contamination during construction works; and d) the condition of the site on completion of decontamination measures.”

All documentation submitted by the developers must meet the relevant British Standards and be verified by a suitably qualified Environmental Consultant.

However, following the Committee decision, Cllr Montgomerie spoke to the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald newspaper, which quoted him as saying, “There are planning decisions being taken by North Ayrshire Council planners and planning committee members along party political lines and they are not reflecting the views and concerns of local people.”

The Labour councillor added, “this is totally undemocratic”.

Cllr Montgomerie backed local objectors to the planning application and told the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald, “Questions have to be asked as to who this planning process really helps, the council or the community?  The consultation process that North Ayrshire Council promotes, in reality, is flawed and needs updated drastically.” was subsequently contacted by a senior North Ayrshire Council insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity.  The official said, “Jim Montgomerie’s comments are completely out of order.

“It’s fair enough that he sides with people who objected to the application, that is for him to decide, but for him to then slag-off the professionalism and impartiality of Planning staff is not acceptable behaviour from an elected councillor.”

The official continued, “He claimed decisions were being taken at the Planning Committee on party political lines, but at the meeting where this decision was taken there were 3 Labour councillors, 1 SNP, 1 Tory and 2 Independents.  Even his own two Labour colleagues did not back him.

“Jim Montgomerie owes an apology to Council staff who do a professional job and apply impartiality to every planning application.  The only issues officials consider are those relevant to planning legislation.  He is completely out of order to attack officers because he didn’t get his way at the committee.  As I say, he couldn’t even get his Labour colleagues to agree with him.”

The decision to re-zone the land at Ardeer from ‘industrial’ to ‘residential’ was taken in North Ayrshire Council’s Local Development Plan of 2008, when the Labour Party formed the administration of the local authority.

Sections 3:3 and 3:4 of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct cover the relationship between councillors and employees of councils, telling councillors, “You must respect all Council employees and the role they play, and treat them with courtesy at all times. It is expected that employees will show the same consideration in return.

“Your role is to determine policy and to participate in decisions on matters placed before you, not to engage in direct operational management of the Council's services; that is the responsibility of the Council's employees. It is also the responsibility of the Chief Executive and senior employees to help ensure that the policies of the Council are implemented.”

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