HIGHLAND Council has been warned its tie-up with tycoon Mohamed Al Fayed in the fight against a £43 million incinerator could be a conflict of interest – given the millionaire’s plans for a 100-home development in the same area.
The local authority has joined forces with the former Harrods owner, who owns Balnagown Estate in Ross-shire, in a legal challenge opposing the incinerator.
North MSP Mary Scanlon has asked how they council could work closely with Mr Al Fayed and still make an impartial decision on his project on nearby land.
Both parties have insisted they are doing nothing wrong in working together as they lodge actions in the Court of Session against the plans for an incinerator.
The Scottish Government approved the massive project last year, despite huge local opposition.
Meanwhile, Ross Estates, owned by Mr Al Fayed, is seeking permission to build homes three miles away, at Barbaraville.
Mrs Scanlon said: “Obviously the incinerator and Mr Al Fayed’s pending planning application are two separate issues.
“However, the council is responsible for determining planning and there is a risk their could be perceived as a conflict of interest, given the proximity between the incinerator site and the proposed housing development.”
John Boocok, chairman of Kilmuir and Logie Easter Community Council, said: “How can we have any confidence in a planning service that, on the one hand, is working closely with the developer and, on the other hand, has to give an impartial decision?”
When the Court of Session challenges were lodged, the council’s vice-convener Maxine Smith said they would have a much stronger case “working hand in hand” with Ross Estates.
And Mr Al Fayed said: “We look forward to fighting the government’s decision in the Court of Session with our ally – Highland Council.”
But a council spokeswoman now claims the challenges are “separate and distinct”, adding: “Both the council and Ross Estates continue to instruct separate and independent legal and professional representation, as was also the case throughout the public local inquiry process.
“It is inevitable there will be common ground in arguments put forward, but there are also areas where parties differ.”
A spokesman for Mr Al Fayed said: “The incinerator is clearly a dominating factor in the area. It affect everything and is far too important for other considerations to come into account.”