Last month a member of staff of North Ayrshire Council’s planning department announced that the owners of the Holy Isle off Arran have the council’s approval to go ahead with a wind turbine project over the heads of the objectors, who included the Arran Civic Trust, The Arran Community Council and at least 50 individuals from the community who had made written representations. This decision, taken in-house without recourse to any elected committee of councillors. is the consequence of the so-called “scheme of delegation” reminiscent of the undemocratic world of the feudal landlords and an abuse of planning power vested in local authorities, where in this case the council department concerned chose to ignore its own guidelines.
It is an appalling example of the continuing concentration of power that has continued under SNP government in Holyrood with councils being ever more beholden to central funding rather than local communities under a regime of frozen council tax earnings from year to year.
This is only the latest and perhaps worst example here on Arran where the community and their representatives at the most local level have been ignored and where the applicant has taken advantage of a compromised democratic system. The local councillor seemed powerless to act and demand the application be considered by the planning committee of elected members and even the local MSP re-ported his objection to the scheme.
From the start the applicants saw no need to consult with the community, although they claim to be an integral part of that community, sharing its values. The council itself had to its credit in the past sponsored a study of the relative landscape value of the entire area of its mandate and the report had made it clear that the Holy Isle was entirely unsuitable for installation of wind turbines. To compound the issue there is no right of appeal.
The reasoning behind giving local authorities power to bypass elected representative decision-making in the planning process has its roots in cost-cutting and was designed to simplify the route to approval of low-impact schemes that adhered to previously agreed development planning and council guidelines. The main safeguard put in place relates to the degree of opposition. In this particular case the North Ayrshire Council seems to have ridden roughshod over even this safeguard.
It is a sad day when communities see their worst prejudices about local government reinforced and question which paymaster local authorities really respond to.
Blairbeg House, Lamlash, Isle of Arran.
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