Councillor Michael Barnacle
Monday 18 February 2013
A flawed democracy and procedures at PKC
Two recent crucial and important debates at PKC on 23 January 2013 re Proposed Local Plan and 14 February 2013 on the Budget have brought out significant concerns I have for both the present and the future in relation to the way the minority separatist SNP Administration (surprisingly aided and abetted by the so-called opposition Tory Group) are running PKC. I feel it is imperative that my constituents and residents are made aware of this.
Dealing first with my concerns over the handling of the Proposed Local Plan situation, readers of the newsletter may recall the article in the November 2012 issue outlining my letter of 2 October 2012 to Jim Valentine, PKC’s Executive Director (Environment) on this. As predicted, all previous references in PKC documents to the possibility of a modification to the Plan in November 2012 for a 6 week consultation were ignored by planning officers, who directed Councillors make no notifiable modifications, citing delays in the adoption of the Plan if any other course were followed, despite the fact that over 1,500 representations were made on the Plan by the deadline of 10 April 2012.
My letter of 2 October 2012 requesting surgeries between senior planners and ward councillors did result in two detailed discussions taking place on Kinross-shire aspects of the representations received, the planners suggested responses and your ward councillors proposed amendments/modifications (taking note of community representations) prior to the full debate on 23 January 2013.
At that debate, I was prevented by the Provost from raising with the officers who ran it any concerns about why they had not kept to their Development Plan Scheme timetable and as a consequence were pressing councillors to agree the Plan for submission to Government Reporters without any material changes (making a ‘joke’ of so-called consultation). It quickly became clear that the officers’ agenda was shared by the administration (this should not come as a surprise since the Nationalist Scottish Government’s “smart, successful, Scotland” project depends on fast-tracking the planning system, democracy being the loser).
Notwithstanding these difficulties, in a full day’s debate, your Kinross-shire councillors (having agreed strategy earlier) managed to put forward 10 of around 17 amendment motions to the Plan, which we thought we may have a chance to secure agreement on.
In summary these were as follows, with the outcome viz:
1 Remove Housing Site H46 in Kinross. A MODIFICATION WE LOST THE VOTE ON .
2 PKC suggest to Reporter that H46 be considered for removal (no shortfall in effective land supply). AMENDMENT AGREED.
3 New site proposed in Milnathort (Site A on Map 31 of Main Issues Report at Old Perth Road) should not be considered for development by the Reporter and PKC propose no modification to the Plan, which excludes it. AMENDMENT AGREED.
4 Extend Site H54 in Scotlandwell eastwards, in order to ensure a reduction in the original housing density, no increase in numbers, limit the height of properties and provide footpath links to south and west. AMENDMENT AGREED.
5 Plan should show an additional zoned housing site in Blairingone (H71) which represents Site B in the Main Issues Report for 30 houses; although it would not contribute to the effective land supply. AMENDMENT AGREED
6 Modify Plan to change Opportunity Site 12 at former Kinross High School to a housing allocation. AMENDMENT WITHDRAWN (following officer advice).
7 Since Housing Site 53 in Powmill is largest landward area proposal for Kinross-shire at 120 houses (less 23 with existing permissions therein) request the Reporter extend the Masterplan requirement to cover the whole village. AMENDMENT AGREED.
8 Areas of Great Landscape Value (AGLV’s) to remain in force until Local Landscape Designations for the Local Plan are in place. AMENDMENT WITHDRAWN when officers and convener of Enterprise and Infrastructure agreed to prioritise landscape guidance, which I had previously requested.
9 Advise Reporter that PKC think Plan should reflect need for further mitigation measures on the A977 between Blairingone and Kinross, noting community aspirations for a possible by-pass of the former. (See later comments on capital budget) AMENDMENT AGREED.
10 Amend Policy CF2 to provide further protection to former railway lines from development, thus enabling either restoration or footpath/cycle usage. AMENDMENT AGREED.
Planning Officers have now finalised the Proposed Plan and associated documents, along with amended Schedule 4 documents (containing numbers of representations, the planners summary thereof, changes sought and PKC response on each of the 46 topic issues) and made submission to the Government Reporters. I have reservations that all representations have been included and correctly summarised, intending to write to the Reporters Unit in due course in relation to my own submissions. It is the Reporters Unit that decides if they want further written clarity on unresolved issues or whether there should be a public hearing. In relation to previous local plan development and procedures this is a major change and in my view, a definite reduction in the democratic involvement of communities, constituents and residents in what shapes their future to 2024.
Dealing secondly with my concerns over the Budget debate, the Independent Group chose not to present their own Revenue budget, given the political arithmetic in the Chamber and the fact that our request for earlier dialogue with the other groups had met with such a disappointing and mixed reaction. Subsequent events were to prove the wisdom of that decision.
Given that Scottish Local Authorities under the Nationalist Government have little choice but to accept the continuing council tax freeze (by 2014/15 it will have been static for eight years, during which time the rate of inflation has consistently been above government targets, leading to a real terms reduction in funding) and act as mere agents of government policy, it was imperative that PKC’s decision on use of its limited resources, in a very difficult economic climate, be given careful consideration and scrutiny. All 4 political groups put forward their budget proposals for the years 2013/15, meaning examination of 8 papers in under one hour (I had not known such complexity in previous budget examinations).
The Independent Group had its own areas of concern, which we had shared with officers, in particular regarding the disproportionate cut in the Environment budget and unacceptable savings proposed in education, housing and community care. We therefore moved deferral of budget decisions until the next PKC meeting set for 27 February 2013 to allow for the dialogue required to examine the relative merits of each budget proposal in order to reach a better consensus and proposal to take forward on behalf of the people of Perth & Kinross we seek to represent. Since PKC had already accepted the terms of the Local Government settlement and all groups agreed this; council tax bills would not be affected by the deferral. Unfortunately, this responsible approach, was ruled as not competent when we had been earlier advised it was in order.
There followed a highly political debate on the various proposals which culminated in the Tory Group’s amendment, that was to be set against the SNP motion, being withdrawn; hence no final vote took place and the Administrations’ budget, with minor changes, was effectively passed; in reality I have not voted for it and will continue to highlight its effects in the next 2 years. As Councillor Robertson said during the debate, the whole procedure was a ‘farce’ and there must be a better way of doing things. I wholeheartedly agree but; when you have an administration that is not interested in dialogue and the largest so-called opposition Tory group that do not engage with the rest of the opposition and openly attack them, whilst happy to take the paid convenerships of audit and scrutiny traditionally reserved for the leading opposition (the phrase taking money under false pretences springs to mind), I have little faith that things will change over the term of this Council. It would be interesting to know if the Tory leader at Holyrood is aware that her party is giving such succour to the nationalists in PKC as we approach their separatist referendum?
Finally, the budget debate also covered PKC’s Composite Capital Budget 2017/20 and I moved our Group’s Amendment to allocate an extra £2 million from uncommitted reserves, which still left reserves of approximately 3% of net revenue expenditure, in line with Council reserves strategy.
£500,000 of this extra capital was sought for major mitigation measures on the A977. I reminded councillors that PKC officers had supported the community on the need for £1 million to be provided for this at the Kincardine Bridge Public Inquiry in 2004 and again in support of the failed petition to the Parliament, signed by the vast majority of residents in the Kinross-shire villages straddling the road, in 2009. Apart from the £250,000 I managed to secure from Tavish Scott, Transport Minister in the previous Labour/Liberal Government at Holyrood (which was clearly not sufficient given the subsequent arguments over how best to use it), PKC have consistently refused to allocate any capital funding for this ‘forgotten road’, despite my repeated requests.
The major measures envisaged in 2004 were effectively 4 large roundabouts and 2 can now probably be delivered through planning gain at Turfhills and Powmill. The amendment would have delivered progress on the 2 others sought at Blairingone and Drum and I used the opportunity in debate to remind members of our Local Plan amendment on 23 January 2013 (see motion 9) reflecting the need.
PKC’s Project Matrix had ignored this issue and also left 3 projects below the cut off for priority funding that I felt should be included, namely Road Improvements Due to A9 Dualling £750,000, Tay Regeneration and Fergusson Gallery £140,000 and Core Paths £600,000. This amendment was dismissed by the administration and they chose to accept a Tory amendment relating to the A9 improvements only.
I am dismayed that, as a result, there will be no provision for A977 mitigation measures before 2020 and I have no way of addressing the concerns continually expressed to me from residents along this strategic route, in relation to the increasing speed and volume of traffic, particularly HGV’s using it.
Councillor Mike Barnacle
Independent Councillor for Kinross-shire