Planners’ decision governed by fear, not facts

As chair of the community council for the area most directly affected by the planning committee’s decision on the A7 realignment, I have to agree with Councillor Weatherston (letters, March 3).

Planning committee members are there, ultimately, to make decisions on our behalf about whether to pass, defer or refuse a planning application.

The decision should be informed by facts and, whilst the arguments may be reviewed and summarised by council officials, it is the duty of our councillors to examine the arguments fully, critically and without political prejudice.

The problem with the planning committee on February 14 was that few of the councillors were critical of the claims put forward by the applicant, and even fewer actually addressed the facts of the argument. Councillor Hume, councillor for our area, cited a number of points on which the application conflicted with planning policy. Not one of the committee members addressed these points.

Heriot Community Council submitted evidence prior to the committee meeting that highlighted 18 faults in the applicant’s transport study, demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that the applicant’s CO2 calculations underestimated emissions by a factor of 10 and demonstrated the adverse effects of convoys on safety standards.

There was little or no discussion of these issues and when asked about the effect of convoys, SBC’s road user manager, looking very much on the back foot, “didn’t think” convoys entering a roundabout would cause an increased delay for drivers beyond the 15 seconds claimed for a clear road – evidently road use policy is best when based on gut instinct, rather than evidence.

When it comes down to it, though, “didn’t think” would be my description of the majority of the planning committee that day, culminating in Councillor Riddell-Carre’s comical initial suggestion that the roundabouts should have a 60m diameter – a size that would have required the roundabout to be placed over the railway. If she hadn’t later voted in favour of it, I would have assumed it was her way of scuppering the application.

I don’t expect to be pleased by every planning decision and, frankly, I wouldn’t object to Councillor Weatherston’s decision to support the application if solid, verifiable evidence had supported the safety and environmental claims of the applicant, and if the committee had demonstrated that they had looked critically at the issues. The problem is that it didn’t and, in an intellectually barren discussion, they most certainly didn’t.

So long as there was doubt, particularly in relation to the safety and environmental implications of the application, the planning committee should, at the very least, have deferred the decision until these issues were resolved. As an observer at the committee, this decision looked like it was pathetically governed by politics and fear for the Borders railway, and not on the facts of the case.

Gavin Whittaker

(chair, Heriot Community Council)

With reference to the letter from Diana Muir (February 24), inviting the public to “attend Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee meetings to witness the shockingly amateur fashion that important issues are debated and passed by our elected body”.

I would like to reassure her that some of the public already have, both seen and heard for themselves the disgraceful way in which these meetings are conducted.

I myself was invited by the council to one of these farcical meetings to allow me the chance to speak on behalf of my letter of objection on a particular matter, only to find that after waiting patiently for two hours I was not given any chance to speak or comment.

This was the first and hopefully the last so-called planning committee meeting I ever have to attend.

The thing I find more frustrating and stressful about the council’s procedures and how it conducts itself, in other departments also, is its somewhat alarming regular ability to contradict itself, which is completely unhelpful and unnecessary.

After reading the letter from Diana Muir, it is very sad to hear these planning meetings continue to be conducted in an unprofessional manner.

How can the council possibly claim to make the right decisions on issues when it cannot perform the most basic function of conducting itself in a logical manner?

Perhaps in these times of cuts the council might consider replacing the people responsible for conducting these meetings with a couple of intelligent young people from our local schools.

Mark Cowie

Weirgate Avenue

St Boswells