Alleged Corruption at Highland Council(January 28, 2008)
OPEN LETTER TO CLLR DREW HENDRY CHAIRMAN
HIGHLAND COUNCIL PLANNING COMMITTEE
Dear Cllr Hendry Balvoniegate 24-1-08
I am writing to you to lodge my objections to the Masterplan for the Highland Housing Fair that was proposed for Balvonie of Inshes Inverness. Under normal circumstances I would tender my views to the Highland Council planning service but we are not dealing with a normal application in this instance.
I understand that for any development to be considered by our Highland Council it must, above anything else, appear to be sustainable.
The application must embrace certain moral standards, standards that are respected by the public in day to day life in Britain and also that no Councillor can sit on the planning committee with a conflict of interest on their shoulders.
During an exhibition of the revised Masterplan at Inshes Church Friday 11-1-08 members of the Highland Council administration team and members of the public were again made aware of the ongoing threat of legal action being taken in the near future against the Outline planning consent that Highland Council has granted for the Fair development.
Such action, if successful, would render the development unsustainable. But it also appears to be unsustainable from other perspectives as well.
Plans are all about lines on paper, sizes, scale and dimensions. If there is a curve in a line that we understand should be straight then we are looking at the corruption of a straight line. It would appear that the most important dimension on the Masterplan, the moral dimension, has suffered some grave form of corruption, rendering the Masterplan in its present form, invalid. Or to coin a popular phrase. Not fit for purpose.
There is no doubt that this Fair should have been a prestigious event for our Highland Council but a whole year of adverse media criticisms and exposure of corruption has left the integrity of the Fair organisers and our Highland Council in tatters.
Within the Highland Councillor's code of conduct there are instructions that Councillor's should not criticise council servants in public. So it follows that no councillor in the planning chamber has an opportunity to challenge the moral standards of the planning team. It must follow then, that if this Masterplan makes it to the Planning chamber then the planners are safe from moral challenge by Councillors, but more importantly will be the fact that many Councillors will feel duty bound or obliged to support the plan in order to save themselves and fellow Councillors from the shame and embarrassment that voting against the plan would have. This must mean that in essence, every councillor in the chamber will have had their integrity compromised by the corruption of the outline planning process.
But the matter does not rest there alone. Serious questions are now being asked regarding the ethics of the land transaction for the Fair in view of the fact that the developer at Milton of Leys has failed to deliver the new link road down to Inshes.
Records show that the landowners, who at this time last year were Tulloch Homes Ltd, were not to be paid for the land until the new road was in place. Through some strange means, within the corridors of Highland Council, those terms have been changed and the land deal has gone through without a new link road. Information recently released from Highland Council under FoI Act tells us that Highland Council are now going to put tax payer's money into developing the road that should have been funded by Tulloch alone.
I am now asking you to tell me, so that the public can understand. Who proposed this deal to offer funds to Tulloch to build the road, and who supported the proposal, and why?
You can probably be excused to some degree from feeling that the public funding of a private developer's road has little or nothing to do with your planning committee but, I would urge yourself and fellow councillors to consider how the public can perceive any support that you give this Masterplan as a serious conflict of interest as stated in 5.18 Councillor's Code of Conduct.
Quote. In the final analysis the conclusive test is whether, in the particular circumstances of the item of business, and knowing all the relevant facts, a member of the public acting reasonably would consider that you might be influenced by the interest in your role as a Councillor and that it would therefore be wrong to take part in any discussion or decision making. If you are not confident about the application of this objective yardstick, you should play no part in discussion and should leave the meeting room.
As a member of the public, I and many others in our community, consider that you have a conflict of interest because you are under extreme pressure to prop up the integrity of Highland Council against the much publicised allegations of corruption having been exercised in the planning process thus far. It seems only natural to conclude that such pressure removes ones ability to remain impartial.
Tullochs are presently on the verge of breeching a 600 house unit capping on the Milton of Leys development. A condition that was imposed on the development until the new link road is in place at Milton of Leys. When this fact was pointed out to the planners at the exhibition last night, Mr Polson the Area planning Manager openly supported the breech saying the developers could build the homes but not sell or inhabit them, until the road is opened. This seems to present a serious departure from established practice because in my own experience building warrants were never granted in the past and work on site could not be allowed to commence while there was any question over the provision of any service such as roads and water.
Indeed, the fact that this is standard practice can be found in Condition 35 of the of the Outline Planning document: (35) No part of the development for which planning permission is hereby approved shall be implemented unless it has been demonstrated that a potable water supply to serve the development can be provided and maintained all to the satisfaction of the planning authority in consultation with Scottish water.
Tulloch are demonstrating that they cannot supply the road. Evidence suggesting that Mr Polson is putting a false interpretation on the road condition, presumably in order to prop up Tulloch developments and the Fair development, is found in an email from Nicola Drummond to Mike Greaves 24th Nov 06 when she said. "Currently the total number of houses capable of being developed without completion of the second distributor road through the park to link Milton of Leys is 600."
Capable of being developed, not inhabited, as Mr Polson would now try and make us accept in order to corrupt the terms of the condition for the benefit of his developer friends.
The completion of the link road is now many years overdue and Tulloch still do not even own the land that is required for constructing this essential road. Throughout the Outline planning process the planners have adopted a presumption that Tulloch would deliver the road long before now, as evidenced in email dated 27th Nov 2006 from Mike Greaves to Nicola Drummond.
Quote. Neil Cameron (Tulloch) is confident that they would be able to progress the link down to Inshes during 2007.
"Was confident that they would be able to progress."
This objection would be incomplete without a brief account of the alleged planning irregularities that have thus far been observed, recorded and in some cases reported in the press.
Highland Planners now accept that they failed to deliver the initial Consultation Letter to Inverness South Community Council (ISCC)
Planners now accept that they failed to respond to a letter from ISCC dated 8th Dec 06 requesting their statutory package of information for the Fair development.
Planners now accept that they failed to respond to a second letter of request for statutory information from ISCC dated 18th Dec 06.
Planners now accept that the case officer signed her report to the planning committee, And also that the Director of planning accepted it, Ten days before the developer addressed the ISCC.
For evidence of who set the strategy for frustrating community consultation we find Mike Greaves, Head of Development and Strategy writing to the Secretary at ISCC suggesting that Susan Torrance, acting for the developers, should make a presentation to the community council on 29th Jan 07, just on the evening before the Hearing. Now Mike Greaves, maybe more than anyone else would know that the community Council was entitled by statute to have 14 days between any such presentation and the planning committee meeting.
The developer only addressed the community the very evening before the planning Hearing when it was then found that nobody was available to attend the Hearing the following morning. This represented a clear breech of statutory planning consultation rules and impacted on the outcome of the planning process in the planning chamber when the community was ridiculed for not presenting a representative.
Emails recovered from the file of the case officer now clearly show how the officer had her mind made up to recommend approval of the proposed development even before she started to put the matter out for community consultation.
On 21st Nov 06 she wrote to Colin MacKenzie at Highland Council HQ saying. "Obviously it is against the plan but we are obviously going to approve, given the background." Remember, the first letter that she drafted for community consultation (The one that she failed to deliver to the ISCC) was dated 20th Nov 06.
Another incriminating email from Colin MacKenzie to the case officer, 20th Feb 07 clearly shows how Headquarters were offering encouragement to the case officer to promote the development of the Balvonie site.
Recorded evidence now clearly suggests that thus far at least three Highland Council officials were colluding to frustrate or corrupt the due planning process and that their combined actions would reap a half million pound profit for Tulloch the field owner, as the fruit of their work.
So why has Tulloch not bought the land that is needed for building the road? We should probably ask ourselves why they should rush into spending funds on a road when there is no urgency, when Highland Council has no control over the timescale of the work.
Tulloch can cease building at Milton of Leys tomorrow, until such time as the Fair folk are desperate enough to pay for most or all the costs of the link road. But there is probably another very good reason as to why Tulloch have not bought the land for the road.
Perhaps the ransom strip is simply not for sale. Well what ransom strip owner would want to be associated in any manner or means with the corruption that have been exercised and exposed in this fiasco so far?
The land owner is from a very well respected local farming family and will feel that he has his integrity to protect. On the other hand he could be simply playing games and raising the stakes, at any rate he is laughing all the way to the bank while at the end of the day Highland Council lies languishing in this squalid bog of corruption.
More evidence of corruption is found in a letter dated 14-2-07 from the case officer to Mr Kerr at Scottish Executive Development Department Planning Division Edinburgh where it is alleged that: Quote Neither Westhill Community Council nor the Scottish Executive Trunk roads have provided responses on the planning application. I do not anticipate that the Community council will lodge further comments at this late stage and will today contact the Trunk Roads with a view to securing an early response.
That is a very grave misrepresentation of fact because I have in my custody copy of an email recording a Westhill representation to the case officer dated 8-1-07 in which it ends saying. "If this application is approved then the Planning Committee would be morally bankrupt if another similar flouting of the local plan were to come before it." Indeed, the above quote was even published in our Inverness Courier at the time. Westhill cc has since the event, made numerous representations against this offence but has had no acknowledgement from Highland Council.
A repetition of such contempt for community council consultation has again recently been exercised by the case officer towards Westhill cc when notice of the consultation meeting scheduled to be held in Inshes Church last night 11-1-08 only arrived in the hands of the Westhill cc on 2-1-08 allowing only nine days notice instead of the statutory fourteen. The Secretary emailed the case officer on 3-1-08 pointing out that insufficient time was being allowed to prepare representations for the public meeting. The case officer refused to postpone the meeting saying that comments could be tendered to her office after the next meeting of Westhill cc which is on 21-1-08. Once again Westhill residents have been denied the opportunity to put their case forward at the right time and in the right arena. Westhill cc lost the opportunity last night to argue its case in public, or gain public support for their views from the wider community.
In the words of Mr Justice Jeremy Sullivan. Consultation must be at a time when the proposals are still at a formative stage. The proposer must give sufficient reasons for any proposal to allow the consultee to give an intelligent and considered response. Adequate time must be given for consideration and response.
In denying Westhill cc of all the above terms of community consultation the case officer and the Highland Council planning department has again exercised utter contempt for our community and there now appears grounds for further complaints to the SPSO when Highland Council exhaust their complaint procedure on this new issue.
Information just released from the Scottish Land Register shows that Tulloch Homes Ltd bought the green wedge farm fields at Balvonie from Lower Muckovie farm in Nov2006 for Â£850,000. Such agricultural land would have had a market value of much less than Â£100,000 at that time so Tulloch must have had some strong reasons for believing that a development permit from Highland Council was imminent. Within six months Tulloch sold the land to HHA for Â£1.3 million, clearing a tidy Â£ 500,000 profit.
Profit that some might argue would not have been available without the assistance of a planning team that exercised grave irregularities throughout the planning consultation process.
The errors in the planning consultation process are so substantial and numerous as to pose a question on the competence of the case officer and a complaint is now being compiled for investigation by the Royal Town Planners Institute.
While this scandal has hit the front page headlines in our Inverness Courier this week there seems to be more to come with news now that Highland Council are agreeing to contribute to the cost of Tulloch's link road, the cost of which might make the Â£500,000 land deal look like peanuts.
I have now written to Highland Council Chief Executive Mr Alistair Dodds, under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, asking him who proposed this kind offer to Tulloch? Who has supported the proposal?
What is the estimated cost of the land and the road works? As you probably know, some of the irregularities that were exercised by the planning department are now the subject of an investigation by the SPSO and I have just received word from that office that their report is due to go before the Scottish Parliament in the near future. The report would not be going there unless it contains dire condemnation of the planner's work. But as if that was not bad enough, another further complaint seems destined for the SPSO just as soon as the present complaint procedure is exhausted with Highland Council.
You will have heard speculation of my threat to take the matter to the Court of Session for a judicial review and no doubt crises managers within Highland Council may have advised the Council that it is an empty threat.
I hope I can come across as a reasonable man so I must tender my reasons for fighting against this Fair and Mr David Sutherland's destruction of our landscape. For a couple of years now Mr Sutherland has been turning Inverness hinterland into housing estates and there was nothing much wrong with that until he applied for planning permission to develop at Bogbain.
Investigating behind the application details I discovered some grave irregularities in the matter which led me to take a keen interest in the planning office. Then in Nov 06 two residents from Milton of Leys contacted me and asked me to help them oppose Mr Sutherland's plans to develop on a green wedge at Balvonie of Inshes. We became strong allies and thus far we have exposed many shortcomings in the planner.s office. We now have www Planning Watch and APT, that's Action for Planning Transparency and now I am no longer a lone voice saying something is wrong with the Highland Council Planning Department.
I have been put on record saying that I am determined, if necessary, to fund a legal challenge against the outline planning permit in the Court of Session and a judicial review. It might be said that I am at a comfortable time in life where my generation do not know what they are doing, or do not care.
I have to think of a legacy to leave behind and I can think of nothing better than protecting the Bogbain landscape from Mr Sutherland's builders. To demonstrate that funds are indeed available I am advertising my two shop properties and a development site in the city for sale.
With the substantial wealth of recorded evidence that I hold against Highland Council planners I do not see this action representing much of a gamble if we do land in court. There is no time bar for presenting the case to court just so long as the defenders are kept constantly aware of the threat.
Perhaps it is time now that Highland Council asked for Counsel's Opinion on this threat of legal action. I shall of course be looking for a copy of the opinion under FoI Act.
I have called on the Chief Executive on a number of occasions to have this matter called in under the terms of a Notice of Referral procedure but the request has been refused. In the first instance I should like you to acknowledge the fact that the Outline planning permit for the Fair appears to be fundamentally flawed and then give us some assurance that you can take steps to protect the integrity of our Highland Council planning system and instigate a Notice of Referral procedure in this matter.Looking forward to your reaction.
Yours sincerely. Brian MacGregor
All Highland Councillors
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