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Highland Council U-turn on its own Caley Thistle battery storage scheme decision

By Scott Maclennan

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Inverness Caley Thistle Football Club is at a loss to explain the council u-turn. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Inverness Caley Thistle Football Club is at a loss to explain the council u-turn. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle has revealed that in a shock move Highland Council is to “reconsider the battery storage planning application” that was approved less than a week ago at the south planning committee.

When councillors approved the £40 million scheme it was warmly welcomed by the club that says it badly needs the income, including to support the community work it does.

But now the club decried the almost unheard of U-turn, saying it was prompted by the committee chairman Thomas MacLennan and vice-chairman Paul Oldham after they are said to have emailed all members about the application.

In that email they are, according to the club, said to have complained “that not enough Councillors from Inverness voting on the application meant it was ‘a bad look for the council’ which is entirely inappropriate.”

The battery storage application had been disputed by council officials from the beginning but ultimately most of the formal objections were withdrawn and councillors voted in favour of awarding planning permission.

Typically controversial planning applications can be called in by Scottish Ministers but it is vanishingly rare for councils to recall their own planning committee decisions.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle statement:

“Inverness Caledonian Thistle is extremely disappointed to learn that The Highland Council, following a proposal from the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the South Planning Applications Committee, are to now reconsider the battery storage planning application that was approved only last week by the Council's planning committee.

“To say that the club are absolutely bewildered by this highly irregular and unheard of move by Highland Council and some of its Councillors is an understatement. The decision, last week, of the planning committee was a decision taken in a proper committee forum in which the committee took a decision, correctly based on planning policy, with a legal quorum.

“The Chair went to great lengths in both planning meetings to make sure that any Councillor on the Planning Committee with any connection to Caley Thistle, even if they were just a casual fan of the club, had to recuse themselves from voting and then in their misleading email to the entire Highland Council membership, complained that not enough Councillors from Inverness voting on the application meant it was ‘a bad look for the council’ which is entirely inappropriate and not a basis upon which a perfectly democratically legitimate decision should be quashed.

“It is clear that democratic process was followed and one has to wonder if the Chair and Vice Chair, who voted for refusal of our application won the vote instead of losing, would they have sent this communication? We believe we know the answer to that and we are therefore left questioning the motive in this move.

“Again, we would reiterate that we are at a loss as to the reason for this application being reconsidered because "it isn't a good look for the Council", this has no legal basis in planning law if all considerations have been dealt with as they were.

“We also consider that the email sent to Councillors contained fundamental and significant misinformation and at no point has it suggested that the decision taken by the Committee was wrong in any way. Question marks remain over the contradictory and false information within the email and therefore the misleading nature of this email, especially given the position of those who compiled it and who they were attempting to influence. Nimbyism by a handful of people also seems to be at the heart of this astonishing attempt to subvert due process.

“Whilst this is an evolving situation, the club have regrettably been left with no option but to consider all legal options open to us and in this regard we have already instructed Thorntons Law to work with the club and its planning advisers to robustly defend the position of the club.

“The club have been clear as to how critical this planning application is to the future of the club and everything that the club does for our fans and our local community. We will therefore challenge this position taken by the council and will robustly stand by our planning application that was only last week, legally and properly approved by the Council's South Planning Committee.

“The club will keep our supporters informed as this matter progresses and would ask for the continued support that the club has received to date.”

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