Councillor anger after he was denied chance to vote

Tuesday November 14th 2023

Councillor Connor McManus

Penicuik Councillor Connor McManus.

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

A councillor has accused the chair of a planning appeal committee of showing an ‘apparent disregard for democratic process’ after he was barred from voting on a local issue.

Connor McManus took to social media to vent his frustration after roadworks delayed his arrival at a site visit ahead of the committee meeting to discuss an appeal over plans for a house on the land.

The incident came as the council’s Local Review Body was meeting to discuss an appeal against the refusal by planners of permission for a house at a former outside equestrian centre at Howgate, Penicuik.

Councillor McManus, local ward member, said he decided to drive to the site in question himself as it was near where he lived but became stuck at temporary traffic lights.

And he said, despite letting fellow elected members know he was on his way, he arrived to see the minibus carrying colleagues leaving the scene.

He was then barred from taking part in the appeal decision by at the Local Review Body meeting later in the day after, he said, chair Councillor Russell Imrie ‘took away his vote’.

Midlothian Council said that the Local Review Body chair had ruled that no members could vote on appeals if they missed site visits amid concerns it could leave them open to legal challenges.

However Councillor McManus said the decision was ‘disheartening’ and shared his views on Facebook saying “openness and transparency are vital to upholding the values of our community”.

He said: “In an effort to align with my commitment to environmental sustainability, I decided to travel directly to the meeting location, reducing my carbon footprint.

“Unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances, namely temporary traffic lights, caused a delay in my arrival by approximately five minutes.

“Despite my efforts to prioritise sustainability and attend the meeting, I was excluded by Cllr Imrie, who claimed to have completed the entire journey from Dalkeith to Howgate, participated in the visit with planning officers outlining details of the application, and departed just moments before my arrival, all within 21 minutes.

“Having departed Dalkeith at 10am and concluded at 10:21am, for clarity I arrived at 10:22am and saw the back of the transport leaving the location, they had made no attempt to wait.”

Councillor McManus said: “I remain deeply concerned about the chairperson’s use of power and their apparent disregard for democratic processes.

“It is disheartening to witness such actions that undermine the voice of Penicuik’s democratically elected representative, all for the sake of uncontrollable circumstances, which he was aware of, as I had notified the group of my encounter with traffic and updated ETA.

A council spokesperson said that while the need to attend a site visit is not in the council’s Standing Orders nor the Scheme of Administration, it was ‘reflected in guidance’ in the Councillors Code of Conduct.

They said: “This is the accepted procedure within the Local Review Body.

“The procedure was relaxed during COVID when alternatives to physical site visits were used however, since the return to face-to-face meetings, the Chair of the LRB, has ruled that a member who had not attended the site visit could not vote on the application.

“It must be stressed that if a councillor had failed to attend a site visit and was subsequently involved in that decision, in terms of general law, there would be a risk of a successful challenge on the grounds that (at least) one of the decision makers did not have full knowledge.”

The review body overturned the officers’ decision to reject planning permission for the house giving it the go ahead, with no councillors raising objections.

Read our article Midlothian ‘rural’ house gets go ahead on appeal for more information about the LRB decision and you can also watch a recording of the discussion.

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