Tennis row causes standards commission hearing

Thursday May 9th 2019

Dalkeith Tennis Club

Players at Dalkeith Tennis Club

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

A row over the type of screening used by a lawn tennis club has resulted in three councillors being accused of breaching their professional code of conduct.

Dalkeith Lawn Tennis Club applied for planning permission to place netting along a fence overlooking residences near their base last year.

But they were ordered to change the type of netting used to a “more transparent” type after the application was brought before Midlothian Council’s planning committee by depute provost Councillor Margot Russell.

Now Councillor Russell is facing accusations she was unfairly prejudiced in her views about the tennis club application because she visited an objector’s home prior to the committee meeting and only inspected one side of the fence.

At a Standards Commission Hearing in Dalkeith, it was alleged Councillor Russell, who has just marked 20 years service as a local elected member, had ‘inadvertently’ influenced the planning committee’s decision by reporting her personal views after the home visit.

The hearing was told Councillor Russell visited the home of the objector without a planning officer because she knew “how busy they were”.

Despite spending over half an hour with the objector, she did not visit the tennis club or take her concerns to them.

Instead, at a planning meeting last April she told members her thoughts about the impact of the netting.

The tennis club later raised concerns about Councillor Russell’s impartiality.

Councillor Russell said she felt that after reading the applicant’s application and the officers report she believed she did not need to return to the tennis club.

Her lawyer told the hearing: “The objections were how it (the screening) would fit on the other side of the fence. It was not necessary to see both sides.”

She added: “Councillor Russell behaved as a diligent councillor.”

During the planning meeting Provost Peter Smaill proposed the application was approved with the condition the screening used was a lighter more transparent kind, leading to some already installed requiring to be replaced, the hearing was told.

Councillor Russell seconded the motion which was approved by the committee unanimously.

Also facing claims of acting, or being perceived to act, unfairly is fellow committee member Councillor John Hackett, who also visited the objector’s home.

Councillor Colin Cassidy, also on the committee, is charged with failing to declare an interest at the meeting by not disclosing a friendship with objectors.

The hearing continues.

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