Published: 03/09/2013 17:24 - Updated: 03/09/2013 17:33

Local member input on planning issues to be axed?

Blow for Highland Councillors not on planning committees.
Blow for Highland Councillors not on planning committees.

A SPECIAL voting right for Highland councillors, which is believed to be unique in Scotland, is set to be axed.

The Local Member Vote - which allows councillors who are not on planning committees to have their say on controversial or major developments in their own area, such as wind farm applications – is poised to be dropped next month.

But an opposition councillor has lamented the potential loss of local input, particularly as Highland Council is currently swamped with wind farm applications, which is when the Local Member Vote is often used.

The threat of legal action has prompted the SNP-Liberal Democrat-Labour administration to scrap the long-standing right.

Under the current rules, any councillor who seeks a vote on a planning or licensing development in their own ward can do so if they have a “special interest” in the issue and are granted permission by the committee conveners.

On Thursday the full council will be asked to formally abolish the right on planning and licensing applications from 30th September.

Councillors will be asked to support a proposal to select a substitute from each ward who could be allowed a vote instead.

The local authority’s planning leader, Councillor Thomas Prag, had previously warned the policy could be legally challenged because there was a perception pressure groups, like anti-wind farm groups, may have influenced local councillors to take a vote on contentious issues.

The opposition’s planning spokeswoman, Councillor Isobel McCallum, said it was unlikely to oppose the removal of local member votes but was pleased substitutes were likely to be introduced after it had made representations to the coalition.

“I regret the loss of the local member vote, but the substitutes are something to fall back on,” said the Independent.

“More than ever, we need good representation on planning because of the wind turbines. That local knowledge is invaluable, it means local people are going to be better represented.”

Far North councillor Alex MacLeod claimed local member votes were often abused and backed their removal.

“We know that councillors often discuss local applications with each other, and that these discussions often result in members using their local member votes,” said the Independent Nationalist. “That is in breach of our Code of Conduct, so we must do what we can to stop it occurring.”

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