SNP councillor Anthea Dickson facing land vote probe

AN SNP politician is to be reported to the standards watchdog for failing to declare an interest when she blocked an ambitious Scottish Enterprise project designed to create jobs and attract millions of pounds of investment.

A complaint against councillor Anthea Dickson to is to be made to the Standards Commission after it emerged that she was the driving force behind a council decision that has thwarted the economic quango’s plan to regenerate a derelict steelworks in Ayrshire.

Hopes that the Scottish Enterprise-owned Glengarnock steelworks would be transformed into a 250-house development, complete with industrial units, have been put on the back-burner after Dickson’s intervention in the planning process.

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She is listed as the company secretary of a firm which owns a nearby plot of land that has planning permission for 47 houses and has been put on the market for offers of more than £850,000.

The prospect of Dickson facing an investigation is a blow to Alex Salmond’s party in the run-up to next month’s local government elections. Last week, Lanarkshire SNP candidate Lyall Duff quit the party after describing two Catholic midwives who refused to carry out abortions as “money-grabbing old witches”.

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Dickson tabled a motion, which was passed at a North Ayrshire Council committee meeting last month, that led to the steelworks’ Lochshore site being rezoned from an area suitable for housing to “countryside or recreational land” – a designation that precludes it from being used for development and puts at risk a proposal to build a secondary school there.

According to council minutes, Dickson, who is standing as a candidate in Kilbirnie and Beith next month, did not declare an interest at the meeting of the local development plan committee.

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But Dickson, whose husband Alan Dickson is listed as director of Kilbirnie Land Ltd, said she did not have to declare an interest because the company is in administration and she does not stand to make money if the land is sold.

A report by the administrator, filed with Companies House, says the company was lent £1.7 million by the Royal Bank of Scotland.

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It also states that RBS holds personal guarantees jointly granted by the couple for £100,000 and a further personal guarantee granted by Alan Dickson for £20,000.

Personal guarantees are generally given by a director as a security for money borrowed by a company in which they are also shareholder. If the business is unable to repay the bank, then it will look to recover the money from the directors personally.

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Last week, North Ayrshire Council chief executive Elma Murray wrote to all 30 councillors to clarify what had happened at the committee meeting when Dickson’s motion was passed by 13 votes to six.

Murray’s letter said that Dickson had “raised concerns” that “in her view the proposal was unviable and distorting the housing land supply in the area and should be reallocated as countryside”. The letter also warned that the planning decision could compromise plans to build a school on the site.

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Labour councillor Alex Gallagher said he would refer the matter to the Standards Commission, the independent public body that enforces the ethical code of conduct for councillors.

“I cannot understand why she did not declare an interest,” Gallagher said. “Rezoning the land as countryside has put the kibosh on any development there.

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“Scottish Enterprise had a vision for new housing, job opportunities and decontamination of the land. That won’t happen now.

“It was also a potential site for a new primary and secondary school with a community swimming pool, which won’t happen on this site either.

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“We have ended up in a position where the land owned by Cllr Dickson’s firm is the only land that has permission for lucrative housing developments in that area.”

When contacted by Scotland on Sunday, Dickson said: “How can it be a conflict of interest when the company is in administration? It is as simple as that. The bank put the company into administration last year, so it has nothing to do with us any more.

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“So there is no conflict of interest and it is actionable if anybody says that it is. The personal guarantee has absolutely nothing to do with any realisable value of the company. It is a completely separate matter.”

She added: “We have been advised by the administrator that there is no possibility of us getting our money back.”

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Alan Dickson said: “I am a shareholder and director of Kilbirnie Land Ltd. The company was placed in administration by the bank. The administrator is working for the bank and there is no chance of us getting a penny out of it. And we have lost very substantial sums of money.”

When asked about the personal guarantee, he said: “I hear exactly what you said. I am not prepared to discuss it any further … my personal financial details. All I can say is that we have already lost a lot of money in this recession. It is also the subject of legal action in relation to the bank. Any suggestion of a conflict of interest is actionable and that comes from my solicitor, who has confirmed that situation.”

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A spokesman for North Ayrshire Council said: “The Lochshore site was identified as a large scale regeneration opportunity, incorporating up to 1100 houses, business and industrial uses and green space. The northern part of the site remains a potential location for a new education campus.

“The proposed designation of the site is as countryside or recreational land.”