Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Rough justice?

The saga over Donald Trump's proposed £1bn golf investment in Aberdeenshire rumbles on, with the news today that the planning committee chairman whose casting vote saw the proposal rejected by Aberdeenshire Council, Lib Dem councillor Martin Ford, has been voted out of his post by his fellow councillors.

The vote was 26-10 to remove him, meaning that 32 of the 68 Aberdeenshire councillors failed to vote on this issue (I believe three were absent and 29 abstained). That level of abstention is shocking. On a relatively simple matter, whether someone should stay in office or not, councillors really should have the guts to stand up for what they believe in and vote one way or another. Regardless of what they thought of the actual decision, if they thought Cllr Ford was well within his rights to use his casting vote against the project, then they should have backed him. If not, they should have voted against.

I also think that questions need to be asked of at least 14 Lib Dem councillors who failed to back Cllr Ford. I would have thought that one of the basic elements of being part of a political group on a council is that you support fellow group members when they are under fire, especially if, as in this case, the person concerned has done absolutely nothing wrong.

The behaviour of those who failed to vote is in stark contrast to Cllr Ford's own conduct. He refused to just roll over and let his tummy be tickled by a developer promising to throw millions into his area, but instead decided that the environmental costs of the scheme outweighed the possible benefits. In doing so, he was standing up for what he thought was best for the area.

Now, I don't know whether Cllr Ford and the others who voted against the Trump scheme were correct or not. I don't know whether the economic benefits outweigh the environmental drawbacks, in particular the damage which would be done to the sand dunes by the proposed development. I do know that the people who are best placed to make that decision are the local councillors in Aberdeenshire.

That is why it is so disappointing that a few days ago, the SNP government in Scotland decided to call in the application and decide it at a national level. This is yet another broken promise by First Minister Alex Salmond, who before the elections in May was certainly making noises about placing more trust in local government. Yet the first time there's anything controversial, he decides that civil servants in Edinburgh are better placed to decide the matter than the people in the local community.

Even worse is the fact that the day before the scheme was called in, Salmond met officials from the Trump organisation, which indicates to me that he is acting at their behest in calling in the application. That creates a direct conflict of interest, which I think means that the only way the application can now be decided is through a public inquiry.

I think the only person who emerges with any real credit from this whole affair is Cllr Ford. Several of his fellow Aberdeenshire councillors don't and the opportunist scumbag Alex Salmond certainly doesn't.

LATER: I had meant to mention that Iain Dale (the Lib Dem one) has also given his views on this.

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