A former leader of Scottish Borders Council has claimed it is “unethical and probably illegal” for the local authority’s planning committee to determine a bid for a £6million visitor centre to host the Great Tapestry of Scotland at Tweedbank.
Drew Tulley claims the perceived objectivity of that nine-strong body, which is due to consider the planning application on Monday, has already been compromised and a decision should now lie with Scottish ministers.
“Apart from this application coming from the council on land owned by the council, members of this council committee, which is quasi-judicial, have already stated at different public forums that they are either for or against this project,” said Mr Tulley.
“In these circumstances, they cannot be considered honest brokers. There is a clear conflict of interest here and I believe any decision made on Monday will be open to legal challenge.”
Yesterday, one member of the committee, Michelle Ballantyne, confirmed she would take no part in Monday’s debate and said she believed others should do the same, raising the possibility the meeting will not be able to raise a quorum of four members.
As leader of the Conservative opposition group, she has consistently spoken out and voted against the council’s decision to spend £3.5million on the Tweedbank venture, which is being recommended for approval by SBC’s planning officers.
“Since this project was announced I have made no secret of my views about a flawed proposition and, because my husband [Neil] has also publicly expressed an opinion, I have been advised I should withdraw from the planning decision or face a potential complaint to standards,” said Councillor Ballantyne.
“Having examined the planning application, all my observations have been confirmed and I am sickened by the way this is being driven through with no robust debate, analysis or review of better solutions.
“Unless others on the committee follow my lead, this planning decision will be taken by councillors who have all supported or helped push through this project. Can they honestly say there is no conflict of interest here?”
Responding to Mr Tulley, a spokesperson for the council told the Southern: “Members [of the planning committee] are entitled to have expressed a view on the strategic issues around the tapestry building and that does not, in itself, preclude them from participating in the determination of the planning application.
“However, if members have gone beyond that, then they should declare an interest.
“Each councillor will therefore require to consider the comments they have made and the actions they have taken to determine where they will be able to participate in the planning debate.”