NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY
I have said in this Notebook umpteen times exactly what I think of West Dunbartonshire Council which most of you will have gathered is not much.
However, listening to former First Minister Alex Salmond giving evidence to the Holyrood committee looking into the background of the failed sexual harassment cases against him gave me pause for thought.
Mr Salmond’s pitch was that there was something rotten poisoning the atmosphere around Holyrood, which he knows and loves.
He rebutted suggestions in the media and elsewhere that the there was something extremely malodorous in the Civil Service at St Andrew’s House.
It was not the Civil Service per se, however, that brought about the bourach involving his prosecution for things he has been cleared of by the highest court in the land. It was the leadership.
The SNP too has been excoriated for their hand in this dirty business, but it wasn’t the rank and file membership that brought that about. It was the leadership.
As for the Scottish Parliament itself, it was not the MSPs who caused opprobrium to be heaped on the devolved institution. It was the leadership.
It was the same reason again that led to the Crown Office, Scotland’s criminal prosecution service, to be hauled before parliament to explain its actions. It was the leadership.
Perhaps it’s the same at West Dunbartonshire Council. It’s the leadership.
We have Cllr Jonathan McColl, leader of the SNP administration, ignoring the rules that have dictated how democracy works in this country.
He has been thumbing his nose constantly at the concept of Freedom of the Press which is an integral part of this country’s unwritten constitution.
So, not only does he make no provision for the press to cover meetings of the council, Cllr McColl instructs publicly paid officials to refuse to speak to members of press whose long-standing role in British democracy has been to hold public bodies to account.
The public face of Cllr McColl and members of the SNP locally has been to give the impression that their dealings with the press and public are open, honest and transparent.
Well, that’s a lie. Cllr McColl is a bigger liar than Cut the Bag, and we have written evidence for that.
Let’s forget about the serious allegations he made against me.
Let’s look at what has been happening in the council this month.
The planning permission for a housing estate on the land formerly occupied by the council offices at Garshake has left residents dismayed.
They are unhappy about the overall design of the project but also about the impact on trees in that area which will be cut down without consultation.
McColl and his cronies, desperate to get their hands on the money to square the council books and fund projects that will reflect well on the SNP, assured them it would be okay.
Resident Linda Spier, a community councillor, said: “We’ve lived where we are for over 35 years and have looked out on glorious apple trees, silver birch trees and other lovely trees and shrubs. Today we’ve witnessed the start of many of these trees being felled to make way for yet more houses.
“So much for West Dunbartonshire Council’s Green Policy – it clearly exists in name only. This is just sheer vandalism.”
The planning committee at West Dunbartonshire Council (WDC) agreed last month, by a 5-4 vote, to refuse permission for the extension of Sheephill Quarry near Milton.
The committee also agreed to grant a Review of Minerals Permission (ROMP) to modernise the terms and conditions under which the quarry operates.
However – and where is the democracy in this? – the un-elected council chief executive Joyce White has used her powers under the authority’s standing orders to refer the committee’s decision to a full council meeting to be reconsidered. The ruling means the application will go before all 22 West Dunbartonshire councillors on March 3.
Councillor McColl previously told the Reporter the matter had been referred to the full council because of the financial implications of the committee’s decision. He said WDC could lose out on a seven-figure sum as a result of the refusal to grant permission for the extension.
Milton Hill resident Brian Mooney, who attended the planning committee’s meeting in January, said: “I feel badly let down by the planning officers and council chief executive for ignoring the decision of their own planning committee. I am frustrated that the council continuously seems to follow a preferred path which is not the due process. It seems to be an attempt to avoid responsibility. The chief executive seems to me to be holding a gun to councillors’ heads. I have lost faith in the council. This puts the councillors in a difficult situation.”
Section 20 (a) (iii) of the council’s standing orders states that a decision of the council made within the last six months can be altered, deleted or rescinded “where, as a matter of urgency, having regard to the potential loss of life, risk of substantial economic loss to the council or any third party (including potential loss or material under-utilisation of funds or resources not available at the time of the Decision of Council), it is deemed by the Chief Executive that the matter ought to be reconsidered by the Council.”
So, what’s up? Where’s the financial loss going to be? Why are the people of this community going to have to go on suffering the detrimental impact of this quarry on their village, the noise, the filth and flooding?