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Anger over Highland Council planning decisions taken behind closed doors during Covid-19 coronavirus crisis

By Alasdair Fraser

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Councillor Jimmy Gray was the only elected member to rule on a number of planning matters this week.
Councillor Jimmy Gray was the only elected member to rule on a number of planning matters this week.

Highland Council planners took decisions behind closed doors this week amid fierce criticism of the change in democratic process.

Councillor Jimmy Gray, chairman of the South Planning Applications Committee (SPAC), was the only elected member to rule on applications with planning officials, but stressed all members had been fully consulted.

Among decisions taken, Network Rail was given permission to build a single platform railway station serving Inverness Airport.

All but three matters were deferred.

Highland Council has a statutory duty to determine applications during the Covid-19 crisis, but has been unable to set in place social distancing or remote technology for meetings.

Cllr Gray said: “Some 93 per cent of applications are already dealt with by planning officials under delegated powers.

"The remainder is usually done through committee.

"With it impossible to have those committees, we had to agree an amendment to the scheme of delegation with the Scottish Government two weeks ago.

“Officials and the chairperson deal with applications they can and defer the rest. That’s basically what happened.

“Before the end of June, we hope to be able to do things online and involve all the members. Right now, we don’t have the IT infrastructure to do that. Democracy has been interrupted right across the UK.”

SPAC committee member Andrew Jarvie was highly critical.

“Contentious applications could be given the go-ahead which will affect communities possibly forever," he said.

"No one councillor should be judge, jury and executioner.”

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