The Borders’ most senior planning councillor has defended his department after fierce criticism from South of Scotland MSP Paul Wheelhouse.
On Tuesday, Mr Wheelhouse’s office issue a searing statement in which the SNP parliamentarian – who is also the Scottish Government’s environment minister – accused the local authority of failing to protect the interests of local residents in the Coldingham Bay area.
Mr Wheelhouse has claimed the council’s handling of the three-year controversial project for a modern passive solar house on the cliff face overlooking Coldingham Bay, has been tantamount to a ‘dereliction of duty’.
In his capacity as a regional MSP, Mr Wheelhouse has raised a number of construction access issues at The Pavilion site with the local authority.
These related to heavy goods vehicles accessing the site and alleged damage and subsidence caused to neighbouring gardens.
Mr Wheelhouse now wants residents who believe they have been affected to complain to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.
“While the current administration is not to blame for the original decision to allow this application, I am disappointed that the current Scottish Borders Council has failed to take demonstrative action and engage fully with residents in terms of resolving the landscape and environmental issues surrounding this application and, in my opinion, this constitutes a dereliction of duty on their part,” he said.
But SBC executive member for planning, Councillor Ron Smith (Hawick, LD), is disappointed by Mr Wheelhouse’s statement.
“SBC’s planning department has monitored progress of this matter and has expressed concerns, but it has been made clear that aspects of this matter are for legal consideration between the developer and those who feel affected by the development,” Mr Smith told us.
“I would have expected Mr Wheelhouse to have engaged more with SBC’s officers before releasing such a statement.”
SBC officials confirmed there had been a number of breaches of planning control during construction of the house, which officers had tried to resolve through discussion with the developer.
However, SBC says, given that the Minister for Local Government and Planning has already pointed out in a letter that the issue of alleged damage to property would be a private legal matter, that it is surprised by the MSP’s criticism.