North-east residents want work on a controversial windfarm halted – because two councillors breached their code of conduct when they backed it.
An official probe has discovered the process which led to the five-turbine scheme in the heart of Aberdeenshire being approved was “flawed”.
Two members of the local authority committee which granted consent declared a non-financial interest – but then proceeded to take part in the vote on the project. One of them even chaired the talks about the Cairnborrow windfarm scheme, north of Huntly.
Now angry residents want developer West Coast Energy to be ordered to go back to the drawing board and start the process of reapplying for permission for the 328ft turbines. The project was considered twice by the local authority’s Marr area committee and a site visit was held.
At both meetings of the committee, former councillors Joanna Strathdee and Alastair Ross declared non-financial interests, but still took full part in determining the application.
They were members of the Huntly Development Trust (HDT), which has a 10% stake in the windfarm, which could help pay for community projects worth about £3million.
Following an investigation into the committee’s decision by the commissioner for ethical standards in public life in Scotland, Bill Thomson, it was ruled Mrs Strathdee and Mr Ross had contravened the councillors’ code of conduct.
Mr Thomson concluded both councillors would have been expected to refrain from taking part in the decision-making process.
But his investigation did not proceed any further.
Mrs Strathdee died after a five-and-a-half year battle with cancer, and Mr Ross was unable to respond due to poor health.
Mr Thomson decided it would not be “in the public interest” to take the matter any further. The next step could have been referral to the Standards Commission.
But householders in the Cairnborrow area want the local authority to quash the planning consent and ask the developer to resubmit its proposals.
A spokesman for the “AB54 postcode residents” said: “This report actually states they were guilty and shouldn’t have taken part.
“This is a rural residential area. This is not an industrial estate. These are industrial-scale turbines, not little things.
“It should go back to the drawing board and start afresh. It is only right and fair. It was flawed. We just want transparency and fairness.”
Chairman of the HDT, Richard Hammock, said that as the committee’s decision to back Cairnborrow windfarm was “unanimous”, the outcome would not have been affected by the councillors not taking part in the debate.
He added: “We have 400 members all of whom pay £1 each to be a member of the trust. What the trust is is much wider than anything to do with windfarms, both councillors declared that at the meeting.
“I don’t feel it will make any difference to the project, which is nearing completion. It is being built as we speak.”
He added that the AB54 postcode and Glass and Cairnie areas would benefit from the scheme.
Former councillor Mr Ross said that had he been fit enough at the time, he would have defended his decision to take part.
He said: “At the time I wasn’t well enough to be able to answer questions.
“I would have gone back at the time and raised a particular issue about a practice, what they call a non-material declaration of interest. They really were non-substantial interests. I have always believed in openness.”
A council spokesman said: “Regarding the councillors’ code of conduct, this is a matter for the Standards Commission.
“Aberdeenshire Council has no legitimate reason to revisit determination of this planning application.”
A spokesman for Engie – which now incorporates West Coast Energy – declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for the commissioner for ethical standards in public life in Scotland said the probe was halted due to the circumstances, with neither councillor able to respond.
She added: “The commissioner took the decision not to proceed and decided that it would not be in the public interest to pursue the investigation of the complaint.”
She added it was “not possible in these circumstances” for the councillors to be given the usual “opportunity to comment on the commissioner’s report before it is submitted to the Standards Commission”.