CITY planning officials have been accused of malpractice over plans to build a 5000-spectator stadium and retail development in the grounds of Scotland’s oldest rugby club.
Council chiefs confirmed they had received a complaint alleging an inappropriately close relationship between planning staff and developers working on the controversial project at Edinburgh Academicals’ home ground in Raeburn Place.
The complaint was filed by resident James McLean after he obtained e-mails – released under freedom of information legislation and seen by the Evening News – which he said showed planners were working to help the development get around city planning guidelines.
In his complaint, he said: “The local toy shop in my area was read the riot act and told to paint its shop a different shade of yellow, the local fishmonger received the same treatment and was told to remove tiles from a small wall outside his shop.
“This contrasts sharply with what appears to be maladministration in favour of a well-connected developer who wants to build a massive block of supermarket-sized retail units in the same area.”
Mr McLean said Scottish Government guidance permitted impartial consultation between developers and council staff on “abortive” work – work which is in breach of the Edinburgh City Local Plan (ECLP).
However, he said this boundary had been crossed in a number of e-mails, with planning officials apparently willing to help the application’s progress.
He cited an e-mail from planners offering advice on circumventing ECLP guidelines for protecting open space, and another revealing discussions about possible “political complications” arising from the application’s timing as being of particular concern.
He said he was angry that the correspondence indicated the developer had – with the apparent approval of planning staff – been able to avoid carrying out a full transport assessment.
Councillors and planning experts have reacted with concern to the allegations.
Tom Parnell, Forth and Borders cases panel secretary for the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, said: “The society, and others, are concerned that there is a perception of imbalance in the way applications are treated, with big economically-driven applications being treated favourably.
“Healthy discussion is one thing – and with large applications there is bound to be extensive contact – but there is a line that can be crossed into over-familiarity, and we can understand why the complainant might suggest that line has been crossed.”
Councillor Gavin Corbett, Green member for Fountainbridge-Craiglockhart, said: “There is certainly a perception of unevenness in the planning system, one that is seen to favour developers.
“Weaknesses in pre-planning consultation and imbalance in appeal rights can make people feel powerless in influencing the shape of where they live.”
Councillor Jason Rust, Conservative member for Colinton-Fairmilehead, said: “It’s a serious complaint and it’s important that it’s fully and thoroughly investigated and any appropriate action taken.”
However, the complaint was dismissed as “nonsense” by Accies bosses.
Frank Spratt, Accies’ executive chairman, said: “I have been involved in building and developing for over 30 years and any dealings I’ve had have always been open and professional. This one is no different.
“We have official meetings with planning officials and we go through what we have to go through and discuss what we need to discuss – above that there’s nothing else at all.”
A city council spokesman said: “We are aware of the complaint, which will be dealt with in line with standard council procedures.”