Sandwich bar proves too much to stomach

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The former chairman of Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee says he will not appeal against his three-month ban from the group.

Hawick councillor Ron Smith was handed the punishment at a hearing of the Standards Commission for Scotland after he was deemed to have failed to have declared an interest in a sandwich bar application in the town in July 2012.

The former geography teacher has since said he will stand down from the committee altogether, but maintains he was harshly treated.

He told The Southern: “The hearing rules allow me to appeal but I do not intend to do so.

“Having said that, I continue to believe I acted within the spirit of the Code of Conduct and its wording allows for different interpretations.”

Mr Smith spoke at length against the Buccleuch Street application – which was refused in a 6-5 vote – during the meeting last year.

He described the bid as a danger to road safety due to the fear that pupils from the nearby high school would gather in the area.

A year on, the Standards Commission ruled that, as the Kirk Session of nearby Teviot Church – where Mr Smith is registered as an elder and treasurer – had objected to the sandwich bar, he should have declared his interest.

Yet, Mr Smith says he did not take part in a Kirk Session discussion which agreed to oppose the application.

And he believes an objective test which exempts those on a committee whose non-financial interest is “remote or insignificant” absolved him of fault.

“However, the panel decided that since I had registered my interest as an elder on the Kirk Session, I was bound by whatever the session did, and must therefore have an ‘interest’ in the outcome of the case to which it had objected,” added Mr Smith, the former Hawick provost.

Council leader David Parker was critical of Mr Smith’s ban. He said: “I accept but am naturally disappointed with the Standards Commission decision – I believe this stemmed from a genuine difference in interpreting the Councillors’ Code of Conduct.”

An SBC spokesman said a replacement for Councillor Smith has yet to be appointed, with the next planning meeting scheduled for August 5.