INVESTIGATORS have cleared council officers of allegations they colluded with developers over plans to build a 5000-spectator stadium and retail development at Scotland’s oldest rugby club.
Monitoring chiefs called in to examine e-mails exchanged between council staff and developers acting for Edinburgh Academicals said they were satisfied the law had not been broken during preparation of a planning application.
But they admitted the issues raised were serious enough that recommendations would be made to acting transport chief John Bury over how his department deals with private developers in future.
The probe was launched in response to a complaint from local resident James McLean – based on e-mails obtained under Freedom of Information legislation – which alleged council officers were acting favourably towards stadium developers and helping the project circumvent planning guidelines.
In his decision letter, monitoring officer Alastair Maclean outlined a series of measures to address the concerns, including a new “protocol” for pre-application discussions and stricter controls over provision of crucial transport and traffic information.
Crucially, it also talks about officers needing to be “careful not to use overfamiliar language” when discussing planning applications in future.
While it is not known what sort of overfamiliar chat faces being outlawed, it is known one of the original offending e-mails from an officer said: “I have to be in a position to both support the development and be able to respond to questions asked by the committee,” which critics felt was overly cosy.
Despite this, Mr McLean said he was pleased action was being taken but insisted maladministration had happened and called for tougher safeguards.
He said: “The promises of better conduct in the future will not address the maladministration that has occurred with this huge retail stadium scheme which is planned for the Inverleith Conservation Area.
“There is still no full traffic assessment and questions now have to be asked on the omission of a full environmental impact assessment. I do not feel that there are adequate safeguards in place to prevent developers and council planners from colluding to the detriment of conservation areas and the people of Edinburgh.”
Bruce Thompson, chair of Save Stockbridge, said: “The letter admits that lots of the administration work done previously was not up to standard. We have lost confidence and trust in the council over this.”
Council bosses said planning processes would be looked at.
Accies chief executive Frank Spratt said: “We welcome the findings from the independent review team, which the council appointed after the seriousness of the recent complaint they received. This has only confirmed that both the council and ourselves have only ever acted in a professional manner and followed due diligence in the council’s planning process.”
‘Good morning, sun is shining’
One e-mail that sparked the probe includes the chatty phrase: “Good morning – the sun is shining!”
Sent by an agent on June 26 last year under the subject matter “meeting up”, its bright and breezy content would no doubt be banned following the ordered tightening of procedure.
Campaigners opposed to the development were concerned by one e-mail from last July 9 where a council officer wrote: “I have to be in a position to both support the development and be able to respond to questions asked by the committee.”
It was interpreted as evidence of collusion between the planning department and developers, but the inquiry stopped short of saying that.