There has recently been a change of First Minister and also of the minister responsible for planning. The new minister, Marco Biagi, also has a different title, “Minister for Local Government & Community Empowerment”. We are hopeful that the new minister lives up to his new title and runs a much more community-empowering planning system in Scotland. We will be calling on Marco Biagi to explain the Scottish Government’s involvement in the Craighouse development. First, we will take you through the little we know of the unminuted, agendaless meetings that were common in the Craighouse planning process.
Our last post was about how at the start of the Craighouse hearing, the convenor asked the councillors to have a secret, unminuted, meeting about the Craighouse financial case for half an hour. But that wasn’t the only unminuted meeting about Craighouse.
Before the Craighouse site was sold, pre-sale meetings were held with prospective buyers at which about the high level of protections on the site was presented by council and government planners. Notes were taken and are available of the meetings with most potential acquirers. However, no notes can be found of the separate meetings with Mountgrange. Why were detailed notes taken of the other meetings, but not of the meetings with Mountgrange?
We also, previously, highlighted the meetings Mountgrange had with the Scottish Government, including finance minister John Swinney. We had a huge amount of difficulty getting hold of those meeting details via Freedom of Information legislation. Finally, we appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner, which put enough pressure on the Scottish Government to get some of the information about those meetings released. However, two documents were still withheld.
After the meeting with John Swinney, a blog post by Manish Chande of Mountgrange appeared on John Swinney’s official blog and an article appeared in The Herald, where Mountgrange‘s Manish Chande looked forward to the business opportunities of new infrastructure investment should Scotland vote for independence. The meetings with the Scottish Government and Mountgrange didn’t stop, instead they just stopped taking notes.
There were 2 further meetings between Historic Scotland and Mountgrange, sometimes with Edinburgh Council officials present. There were no notes, agendas or minutes of these meetings.
There was also a separate meeting between Mountgrange and the Chief Planner and Senior Planner from the Scottish Government. We are told by the Scottish Government under FoI: “Neither Historic Scotland nor Planning and Architecture Division hold any documents relating to the above noted meetings and the meetings were conducted without agenda or meeting notes”.
Derek Mackay (the planning mister at the time) on the 2nd October 2014, when asked about calling-in the Craighouse decision stated: “the general principle under which the planning system in Scotland operates is that decisions should be taken at the most appropriate local administrative level […]. The impacts of this application are local to the Craighouse area of Edinburgh”. If Craighouse is to be decided locally and only affects the local area (i.e. nothing to do with his officials or his department), why did his officials have unminuted agendaless meetings with the developer about the project?
Why was so much of the Craighouse planning process undertaken in secret? What was said in those meetings which politicians and public officials did not want the public to hear about? Clearly they were annoyed by having to release information under Freedom of Information legislation and resisted doing so as much as possible. But, if the politicians and officials have followed normal planning rules, why the secrecy?
We hope that the new Minister for Local Government & Community Empowerment stops planning decisions from being pushed through with unminuted agendaless meetings and brings about real transparency and community empowerment in the planning system.