Published: 28/05/2013 11:42 - Updated: 28/05/2013 11:49

Third councillor gagged from speaking on wind farm applications

Andrew Baxter - banned from voting on wind farm applications.
Andrew Baxter - banned from voting on wind farm applications.

A third Highland councillor has been gagged from speaking or voting on wind farm applications – the latest because of his membership of a charity.

Lochaber independent councillor Andrew Baxter sponsors the conservation charity, the John Muir Trust (JMT).

But he has been advised by council chiefs there could be a conflict of interest if he sits on a committee considering wind farm proposals on which the charity has commented.

Mr Baxter is challenging the edict, on the basis that it assumes he always concurs with the JMT.

The argument has stoked a wider debate about councillors’ freedom of speech with two other councillors facing similar guidance from council chiefs in the past few years.

Fellow independent Jim Crawford has to step out of the chamber during wind farm debates because of his universal opposition to a technology he considers uneconomic and inadequate as a source of energy.

Similarly, Liberal Democrat councillor David Henderson, who stood down at the 2012 election, had been advised to leave the chamber when any wind farm applications were being debated.

In the latest case, it has been suggested that Mr Baxter’s public opposition to turbines could backfire on the council in the shape of a potentially costly legal appeal from a spurned developer.

He said: “I’ve been advised that my statements about wind farms were not just seeking a change in policy but actively promoting it through my membership of the John Muir Trust.

“I’ve asked for the matter to be referred to the Standards Commission because, as an elected representative, I feel I should be allowed to contribute to such debates.”

And Mr Crawford argues that he should be allowed back into the fold because he was comfortably re-elected last year on a mandate which made no secret of his opposition to wind farms.

“You cannot undertake the duties of a councillor in properly representing people when banned from speaking,” he said. “This needs to be reviewed because all councillors have an opinion on something.”

Former councillor David Henderson said: “If I were Andrew Baxter I’d argue the toss. He’s quite right to take this to the Standards Commission.”

More on this story in Friday’s NT.

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