A controversial planning application that became the focus of a police investigation returned to Falkirk Council’s planning committee after three years – only to be turned down.
The application by Persimmon Homes to build 91 houses near Tappernail Farm, Reddingmuirhead, had been approved in 2018, before a lengthy police investigation stopped it going any further.
That investigation did not find any evidence of wrongdoing but it left the application “tainted by apparent bias”, a council report said, and a fresh decision was necessary.
When the committee met on Tuesday to discuss the matter, the two councillors who had been at the centre of the investigation – Conservative leader James Kerr and Labour’s John McLuckie – both gave their apologies, although the report made clear that “there is no suggestion of any actual wrongdoing by any party”.
A deputation by Shieldhill and California Community Council which attempted to speak about the two councillors was interrupted, with at least two councillors threatening to walk out if any more was said in the meeting.
Maria Montenaro, speaking on behalf of Shieldhill and California Community Council, argued that the background was relevant as they felt there it showed that planning permission should never have been granted in the first place.
This was crucial to her argument because without that permission in place, the site would not have been included in the new local development plan (LDP2), which planners and councillors have to consider very carefully before going against.
However – after legal advice was given – she was forced to curtail her remarks and concentrate on her plea that the land was vital green space for the community – a plea that was backed by a petition with more than 200 signatures.
Speaking on behalf of Persimmon, Gordon Johnson said it was their “strong belief that this development will be a positive addition, not a negative drain as suggested by some”.
He said: “These houses will bring new families to these communities, who will, in turn, bring new children to the schools, spend money in local shops and use local services.”
The developer had also agreed to pay contributions of more than £600,000 to alleviate any impact on health services, education and transport, while it also promised that 23 of the homes would be affordable housing.
Councillor Gordon Hughes said that he was concerned that the site was an over-development of the Braes, which has seen a massive expansion in recent years.
And he was not convinced that Persimmon’s financial contributions would make up for the pressure that would be put on schools, doctors’ surgeries and transport by the new housing.
He was backed by two lower Braes councillors, Alan Nimmo and Adanna McCue who had similar concerns.
In making their decision, all of the councillors were aware that the housebuilders could well appeal to the Scottish Government to overturn their decision.
For the third Lower Braes councillor, Malcolm Nicol, that was the deciding factor in his decision to back the development as he was worried that the housebuilder would win on appeal and the council would lose the promised contributions.
After a vote, the committee turned down the plan.
Speaking after the meeting, Maria Montenaro said: “I’m disappointed that Sheildhill and California Community Council’s deputation wasn’t heard in full, given the controversy over the application, but it’s a good decision and I think the right decision for communities across the Braes area.”
Story by local democracy reporter Kirsty Paterson